By Art Holliday
ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - From banks to bagel shops, surveillance cameras are watching in St. Louis and many U.S. cities. In Boston, surveillance video was crucial in quickly identifying the marathon bombers.
"But that's not an argument for more security cameras," said Washington University law professor Neil Richards, an expert on privacy. "That's an argument that maybe Boston has enough. I think the wrong lesson to draw from this is that everyone needs to have more security cameras everywhere all the time."
As high definition cameras and software evolve, Richards says we should ask ourselves how many cameras are too many, and who's watching the watchers to avoid abuse.
"It's not just whether we have cameras, it's whether the locations of the cameras are disclosed to the public so they know how the money is being spent, and we know when we're being watched by the police, and also whether there are meaningful guarantees that they're only going to be used for law enforcement," he said.
"When you live in an area that's been plagued by violence, you see the situation a little differently," said 21st Ward Alderman Antonio French.
In the 21st Ward, Alderman French says more cameras mean less crime. In 2010, the 21st Ward led the city with 14 homicides. Desperate to cut down on crime, French installed 18 surveillance cameras, with more on the way.
"Now that the camera system is there in certain areas, we've seen a change in behavior," said French. "So, in some areas where people felt free to sell drugs or engage in violent activity in broad daylight, a lot of that has changed."
French says there were just three homicides in his ward last year, and his residents have noticed.
"Most often the concern I get from people in my community is when are you going to put a camera on my block or why don't we have more surveillance camera systems?" he said.
Richards says increasing the number of surveillance cameras raises unanswered questions about how long camera data is stored and who has access to it.
"When you start to pair those with facial recognition technology, and link those to drivers' license data bases, that's very different. That's not just a police officer on every corner with perfect memory, that's a police officer with perfect memory who has the power to ask for your papers constantly and identify you by name and in real time wherever you go in a city," said Richards. "I think a few cameras in public places is one thing, but mass surveillance of where we go all the time, is entirely different and just unnecessary."