Some places are more security conscious than others. Some are just luckier – or perhaps they know how to play the angles.
Dillingham, Alaska, a no-stoplight town with a population of 2,400, received a grant of $202,000 from the Homeland Security Department to install 80 surveillance cameras at the local port and elsewhere around the town, including the Fire Department and City Hall. That works out to a camera for every 30 residents. When citizens complained about procedural issues that led to the grant, the mayor resigned in a huff. Most of CCTV systems and security cameras are installed by licensed locksmith professionals, many specializing in this specific trade.
One problem with the cameras – besides questions of civil liberty that have been raised by citizens furious that downtown movements will be watched – is that they take only still pictures. According to the Anchorage Daily News, the cameras have no audio and take one picture every 15 minutes. Which leads one to wonder, “What’s the point?”
Anchorage, meanwhile, with a population of 260,000, has fewer than 40 security cameras covering its major international port. New York City has 500 to observe its 7,000,000 residents.
These cameras are a far cry from industrial, corporate, and residential videocams that actually play a useful role in increasing security for a specific building or installation. A single security guard can easily keep an eye on half a dozen or more cameras showing live video of a hallway, entrance, or other access point. One has to wonder what a town like Dillingham will do with the 7,680 images collected every day.
Last week the records of 2.6 million veterans, including their Social Security numbers and vast amounts of other private information, were stolen from the house of an employee who took them home on a laptop. Millions of private citizens have their phone records monitored just in case they happen to call someone who, for any reason or no reason, is on a “watch list.” Ports are unguarded, but downtown Dillingham is photographed 24/7.
The Homeland Security Department could instead be taking steps that would really protect our nation. It would be truly useful, for example, to have American seaports and airports under comprehensive video surveillance – all places at all times, with special attention paid to boarding and departing areas and cargo lading depots.