Opinion

Waters: Big brother is watching us...some more

Eye in the Sky, spycam, public surveillance—call it what you will, Kelowna is getting more of it.

The city has started a test in Stuart Park to see what type of camera works best and expects to have three cameras permanently installed in the park within a few weeks. Before the end of the summer, there could as many as 12 more at locations up and down the downtown lakeshore, in part to keep an eye on areas most often used for special events.

The city says the new cameras are going in—thanks to a grant from the province—to help co-ordinte security efforts following complaints about shenanigans in the park.

But officials are quick to say privacy concerns will be addressed and the cameras are there more for crime prevention than crime fighting. Still, video footage will be turned over to the police if requested as part of a criminal investigation.

Following the battle over pubic surveillance cameras here nearly 10 years ago—when then-federal privacy commission George Radwanski deemed an RCMP-operated camera at the foot of Leon Avenue an invasion of privacy, the public has mellowed to the thought of starring in a real-life, reality show.

While public surveillance cameras are now common across North America, so are so-called "citizen reporters" who carry cameras with them at all times in their cell phones and have become the go-to people for on-the-spot photos and videos of life as it happens. YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are now what CNN was 20 years ago, the real 24-hour-a-day news source.

And like a whole raft of other "security" measures we now live with, we don't seem to mind.

In Kelowna, the public has moved beyond the privacy concerns of public spycams 10 years ago. No one complains anymore about the city's surveillance camera that watches over the Queensway bus loop or the Chapman Parkade or that RCMP-operated camera at the foot of Leon Avenue to watch the nightly bar flush. We accept camera watching traffic at intersections and in banks, stores and virtually every where the pubic gathers.

We know we are being watched—the signs posted at the cameras tell us that—and, in a way, we take comfort in the fact. When we turn on the television, we see shows that depict bad guys getting caught before the end credits roll thanks to public surveillance cameras. We think of the alternative, shrug our shoulders and move on to other issues like jobs, the economy and how our favourite sports team is doing.

In the 11 years since 9-11, we have become used to having out privacy invaded. We accept it as the price we pay not only to travel but for staying safe.

Searches at airports of our belongings and us—some using x-ray technology to see under our clothes—have become just another part of the price of a ticket. Webcams broadcasting street scenes from around the world to anyone who an click a computer mouse are commonplace.

And there is even a desire by some to have more of it.

The city says it has had calls for a webcam to broadcast live pictures over the Internet of the Stuart Park's ice rink in the winter.

And the city is giving that idea some serious thought.

Al Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.

 

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