The police should not spy on Downtown streets

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May 5, 2003 // UPDATED 10:50 am - April 30, 2007
By: Terrell Brown
Terrell Brown

They\'re floating a plan to have a Target-sponsored camera watch your public activities. We should just say no.

Eric Arthur Blair died in 1950. You might know him better by his pen name, George Orwell.

A few weeks ago this newspaper documented at great length the cameras watching every move made in downtown Minneapolis skyways. Over a half century ago, Orwell simply said, \"Big Brother is watching you.\"

To celebrate the upcoming centennial of Mr. Orwell\'s birth on June 25, 1903, the Minneapolis Police Department wants to do more watching. They want their own set of cameras to aid in their watching. Perhaps they read Orwell when he wrote, \"Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent.\"

Police agencies are doing a lot these days by invoking the cry of \"homeland security.\" Some of the ideas are truly amazing. A system has been developed to screen airline passengers by checking their credit records. Does anyone have any idea what the credit profile of your typical terrorist is? Do they even have a credit profile?

At the March 19 meeting of the Loring Park neighborhood\'s Livability Committee, Minneapolis Police Inspector Rob Allen mentioned a proposal that was in the works for police-monitored cameras. Inspector Allen assured the group that the cameras wouldn\'t be installed if the various neighborhoods didn\'t approve. Our Police Department had, however, obtained funding for the system from what Inspector Allen described as \"a local corporation whose logo is a bull\'s eye.\"

When I read the April 16 Loring Livability Agenda - \"Inspector Allen will present the benefit of MPD-monitored public security cameras downtown in areas with high calls for police service\" - another Orwell observation come to mind: \"Political language - and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists - is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.\"

At that meeting, residents expressed privacy concerns. Using slides with Target Corp.\'s name prominently displayed, Inspector Allen presented information about camera programs in Delaware and in England.

Crime is down in each of those areas. Crime is down virtually everywhere, including Minneapolis; many experts point to the decrease in people in their mid-teens to early 30s as a major reason. Crime is generally a young person\'s business. Inspector Allen assured the group that privacy concerns would be taken into consideration.

I would have been more impressed if Inspector Allen had proposed another London program: most cops there don\'t carry guns. Less than half of the London police force has even had firearms training.

Big Brother has so many interests these days. The artfully named U.S.A. Patriot Act has resulted in subpoenas of library and bookstore records. Subpoenas that, by the way, secret courts can issue.

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee summarized the law by saying, \"The USA Patriot Act gives the FBI and the CIA greater rights to wiretap phones, monitor e-mail, survey medical, financial and student records, and break into homes and offices without prior notification.\"

It adds that \"the law enables federal agencies to ignore many Freedom of Information Act requests for unclassified information. For example, the administration has used this edict to keep secret the names of detainees detained for long periods, and to close their hearings.\"

So much for an open society; so much for open access to government.

The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights, states, \"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause ....\"

What activities were the Bill of Rights\' authors trying to prevent? Perhaps they thought Big Brother shouldn\'t be watching.

As Orwell said, \"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face-forever.\"

Apparently the future is now.

Terrell Brown lives in Loring Park and works Downtown. He can be reached at Letters to the editor can be sent to