Surveillance cameras go public in Minnesota county

Anyone can join Neighborhood Watch program without leaving home

Residents in Ramsey County, Minn., can now join their Neighborhood Watch without getting off the couch. The county sheriff’s office has made 14 of its surveillance cameras, which are training on high-crime areas, available to the public as part of its Neighborhood Watch program.

The county’s Web Cop site, which features a smiling cartoon camera in a police hat, invites people to join in on the watch by clicking a link to the watch site. Visitors must sign in, but the user name and password are both “public.” No other registration is required.

Once in, they can select a camera to watch. If they see anything suspicious, the sheriff’s office asks them to call the East Metro Real-Time Information Center, where analysts can adjust the cameras to get a better view, according to a report from Government Technology.

The site was launched in August at the time with 10 of its 30 cameras available to the public, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, but has since expanded the number of public cameras to 14.

The cameras are set up primarily in county parks and ice arena parking lots, which are frequently the site of vehicle thefts and occasionally the site of violent crimes, the sheriff’s office says on its website.

But in opening up the cameras to anyone, without registration, Ramsey County is renewing a debate over the privacy aspects of cameras even in public places.

Google has taken heat over the privacy aspects on its Street View service, for which photographs are surreptitiously taken from a van. A Long Island, N.Y., town has used Street View to go after people who built backyard swimming pools without permits, which also has drawn objections from privacy advocates. And North Oaks, a small Minnesota town near St. Paul, told Google to take Street View and get out of town.

Privacy advocates primarily raise questions about the rights of people who aren’t breaking the law but are unknowingly being photographed. But Ramsey County officials maintain the system improves public safety by letting law enforcement officers respond more quickly.


About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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