San Jose Councilmember Proposes Crowdsourcing Surveillance Video

By Scott Budman
|  Thursday, Jan 23, 2014  |  Updated 6:29 PM PDT
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A proposal by a South Bay city councilmember would create a central database using residents' private security cameras. Scott Budman reports.

A proposal by a South Bay city councilmember would create a central database using residents' private security cameras. Scott Budman reports.

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A proposal by a South Bay city councilmember would create a central database using residents’ private security cameras.

Some say it's about safety. Others say it's a bad idea.

The proposal by San Jose Councilmember Sam Liccardo would build a database of home surveillance cameras, he says, to help the San Jose Police Department better catch criminals.

But some wonder if it's just a little too close to “Big Brother” watching. The American Civil Liberties Union is weighing in on the debate, referring to the home video cameras as "Little Brother.”

Neighborhood surveillance video helped police capture a suspect in the recent string of San Jose arson fires. With more cameras, comes more evidence from such sources, which begs the question, Can it be made more efficient for law enforcement? At least one local lawmaker says it can.

"This is leveraging the efforts of our community collectively to see how we can support the police department,” Liccardo said.

Liccardo is proposing a crowdsourced database, where city residents would let the police department know they have cameras and are willing to share footage, should a crime occur in their area.

“The ability to provide immediacy to the department, letting them know if there's a video camera somewhere nearby, they can go talk to the owner and ask for permission to use the video,” Liccardo said.

To be clear, police would not be “recording” camera footage from members of the public at-large, but can request permission from residents for footage.

Councilmember Liccardo's plan also suggests discounts for homeowners who want to install cameras. That has some worried.

"Could you have had the Summer of Love with cameras taping everything?” said Irina Raicu, of Santa Clara University's Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

Raicu said too much surveillance might put a chill on natural human interaction.

“If there's a virtual eye in every public square, making a perfect transcript of everything you say, you're not gonna get the same amount of communication,” Raicu said.

The debate is just getting started. Councilmember Liccardo's proposal will be discussed by the San Jose City Council next Wednesday.

San Jose isn't the first place to consider this type of program. The Los Gatos-Monte Sereno police department is already trying something similar. It's called “Los Gatos on Watch.”

The program allows residents and businesses to register their surveillance cameras with police. Once they do, officers can contact them during any criminal investigation to see if any crimes and suspects were caught on their cameras.

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