Privacy is precious but sometimes cameras are the best witnesses

That would be the high-tech eyeballs-on-the-city surveillance project – photo forensics – that, for all of three weeks, captured everything that moved at three intersections downtown, like some sort of robotic paparazzi in the sky.  Actually, they were up the pole, and outwardly resembled street lamps rather than the Big Brother Is Watching monstrosity that privacy alarmists warned about, more unobtrusive than intrusive. It isn't clear whether the pilot project had any quantitative benefit. Police have not said whether this surveillance tool helped identify bad guys, even in the shooting that occurred only days after the cameras were affixed, bullets shattering windows just steps from where Jane Creba was killed on Boxing Day, 2005.  It was that brazen gunfire, so shocking to Toronto, which prompted a look-see deployment of round-the-clock video shadowing. The equipment was placed at Yonge and Dundas Sts., Yonge and Gould St., Yonge and Gerrard St., largely at the impetus of the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area Association, which hopes to implement the program permanently later this year.  Last October, the provincial government made $2 million available for the purpose to interested communities, primarily aimed at deterring gun crime and gang activity. Would have made more sense had the project been applied in those suburban neighborhoods where guns and gangs are most prevalent. But crime in the 'hood – the usual niches of bang-bang and bloodshed – doesn't provoke quite the same public outcry.  Further, I suspect there would be accusations of racial profiling leveled if the cameras were directed at some more violence-afflicted residential neighborhoods. At the corner of Yonge and Dundas – which fancies itself a micro-mini Ginza but is in fact an urban wasteland, the concrete square a testament to vapid civic design – few beyond a handful of media chroniclers were taking any notice of the surveillance camera yesterday afternoon, in its final hours of operation. (A queer sight, TV cameras filming security cameras.) Privacy vigilantes will breathe a sigh of relief as the cameras come down. The "politics of space" has become a trendy cause in the West, those fighting for the right to anonymity aghast at the burgeoning phenomenon of tracking and documenting and sneak-peeking. What's perhaps surprising is that Toronto has been so slow to embrace the practice. But if you think, with these particular cameras disassembled, nobody is watching, look again. Few are the business properties that haven't jumped on the surveillance bandwagon, from banks to car parks to casinos to the local convenience store.  There are video cameras in apartment lobbies, office buildings, subway stations, malls, highway overpasses and police lockups. Spying gadgetry is all the rage, teensy lenses inserted into everything from license plates to air purifiers, bionic "ears" and sound enhancers capturing audio as well, webcams trained unblinkingly on the private and the public. One can't even get hanged in private anymore. Cell phone cameras are ubiquitously common now and I never much saw the point until the London transit bombings when amateur clickers provided the world with surreal documentation of disaster at its immediate source, the emergence of the citizen photojournalist. It was closed-circuit cameras – CCTV – that caught the bombers as they entered the tube, identification prompt. Some of the 9/11 operatives were similarly framed as they passed through airport security. Airports have become ground zero for ultra-sophisticated security technology, biometrics – such as eyeball recognition – increasingly common.  CONTINUED

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Caught on Tape!!!