The growing use of security cameras in public places is a concern to civil libertarians, according to Esther Patt, president of the Champaign County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"Initially we were looking at whether there is some sign posted informing people that they are being videotaped," said Patt, a former Urbana City Council member. "The Urbana Free Library, for example, has something that states they have video surveillance. And if you go into Campus Recreation East or the ARC (two recreation buildings on the University of Illinois campus), there are signs that say there is surveillance. I think that's important to have in public places, some notification."
The ACLU also wants local government agencies to have written policies regarding security cameras, addressing such issues as who can view the tapes and how long they can be kept.
"If they limit the number of people who can view them, and have some policy about what they are doing with them, we don't think that's as problematic as when they have no policy and people have no idea what's going on," she said.
A UI policy adopted last year prohibits placement of cameras in private areas, requires signs to be displayed "that provide reasonable notification of the presence of security cameras," says that cameras cannot be used for personnel investigations "such as those related to work place attendance or work quality," and limits retention of recordings to no more than 120 days, unless approved by the UI police chief or legal counsel.
"People have a legitimate concern that their privacy is being violated when any number of people over a long period of time can watch film footage of them," Patt said. "It's really for someone who sticks their hand in their pants to adjust their underwear when they think no one is watching. You don't need to have a dozen people sitting around laughing and watching that.
"I think that's the main kind of privacy concern that people have, not so much that they're being spied upon as just being closely watched the way a camera can, and then for people to pore over it."