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Use of Video Surveillance Equipment Becoming More Widespread in US


The recent terrorist attacks in London have opened up new questions about the use of public surveillance cameras. Improved software allows security officials to obtain more information from surveillance cameras. There are questions about the extent these cameras affect civil liberties. But more public officials are coming out in support of the cameras.

These shots of the suspected terrorists in the London bus and subway bombings, from several weeks ago, came from public security cameras.

The cameras, over 200,000 of them, are all over England. For example, every car that enters or leaves London is recorded by a video camera.

Now, this form of security is becoming more widespread in the United States. Surveillance cameras are popping up all over the country, in cities such as Baltimore, in the eastern state of Maryland. Police officials in Baltimore see the difference the cameras make.

"You put a camera in a location and you have immediately a 40 percent decrease in crime for six months in that area," says Leonard Hamm, the police commissioner.

This technology may become even more prevalent now that some surveillance equipment is advanced enough to possibly combat terrorism. This computer, for example, has software that can detect when someone drops a bag on the ground and alerts officials immediately.

This 360-degree spherical lens enables a camera to follow a particular individual. The computers they are tied to also have the ability to look for individual faces, including people who appear on a watch list. As this technology expands and its use increases, there are questions about individual privacy rights.

"The question is how do you use it in a society that's supposed to be free and open? And that becomes really the critical issue," says Dr. Harlan Ullman, a International Security Analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "There's a great tension between the society's right to defend itself, protect itself and therefore to impose its needs on individuals and the right of individuals to have some sort of security and freedom from intrusion."

But security officials believe the quick response time provided by the cameras justifies their increased use by authorities.