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Privacy Fears Grow as Cities Increase Surveillance

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Surveillance cameras are being used increasingly by law enforcement.

Federal grants of $7 million, initially intended to help thwart terror attacks at the port in Oakland, CA, instead are going to a police initiative to collect and analyze reams of surveillance data.

Credit: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Cities across the United States are increasingly using big data for law enforcement through federally funded projects, raising concerns about the ability of technology to help the government track the details of citizens' lives. Oakland, CA, for example, is using $7 million in federal grants for its Domain Awareness Center to build a central database of surveillance information that will include information on the everyday activities of law-abiding residents.

Law enforcement officials are able to investigate suspects much more thoroughly with improved abilities to gather and parse data from tools such as license plate readers, sound sensors, and traffic and port cameras. The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California says Oakland's program, which is scheduled to begin next summer, is "warrantless surveillance...[and] the city would be able to collect and stockpile comprehensive information about Oakland residents who have engaged in no wrongdoing."

In Virginia, backlash over a license plate database forced state police to eliminate its data after the state’s attorney general said the practice violated state law.

Law enforcement officials see big data as a way to greatly enhance their intelligence gathering and provide a much broader view of the people they are investigating. However, less-advanced surveillance programs previously have encountered significant resistance at the state and local level.

From The New York Times
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