2014-02-06 / Letters to the Editor

Do you have a right to know who is watching you?

Smile. You are being watched.

This week we learn that the town is still working on a policy to govern the use of surveillance cameras in our community. A draft of that policy was given to the Town Council this week but was not shared with the public.

The need for a town policy came as the result of a Jamestown Press story last summer that revealed the extensive use of surveillance cameras on the island. Such cameras are operated by private individuals and businesses, and local, state and federal government. At question is whether the public has a right to be involved in the development of a policy for the use of such cameras by the town. Part of such a policy should be the public’s right to know where such municipal-owned cameras are placed.

Concern follows on the heels of our recently learning that the National Security Agency has been collecting data about our telephone calls and email activities. Such snooping should be considered an invasion of privacy. Should people be concerned about cameras in public places that are recording their activities? One would assume that there is no loss of privacy when cameras are put in public places.

Government-owned surveillance cameras, especially those that are operated by local government, are often used for public safety reasons. We do not argue the public safety need for such cameras. We do, however, believe the public has a right to know where such cameras are placed by the town. One would assume that the town would want to have cameras placed on its public buildings such as the water treatment plant, the town highway garage, the wastewater treatment plant, Town Hall, the library, the fire station, the police station, and even the town beach and parks.

As the Jamestown Press story demonstrated, one must assume that when you are in are public space on the island, it is likely that your activities are being viewed and recorded by discreet cameras. There are cameras at the library and the schools, road cameras at both bridges and the toll lanes, cameras at the bank and the liquor stores. There are cameras at the waterfront and cameras at many businesses. Camera usage will not decline. We suspect that cameras will proliferate in the coming years.

We urge the Town Council to invite residents to discuss the town’s policy on the use of municipal surveillance cameras in Jamestown at a public workshop. That policy should include the public’s right to know where such cameras are placed. Local government’s cameras should not be a secret nor should the policy about their use.

— Jeff McDonough

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