Been to Chicago lately? Chances are, even if you didn’t think anyone knew, someone saw you. The ACLU estimates there are more than 10,000 cameras in the city of Chicago. These cameras are on light poles, the corners of buildings, at bus stops and truck yards, on highways and city streets. Chicago says this has reduced crime and contributed to 4,000 arrests. The ACLU says that Chicago is being too secretive about its camera placements and that they are also being secretive about exactly how many there are. There is the potential for invasion of privacy, and profiling. How many people in Chicago attend a political rally not knowing they are being observed? How many people in Chicago go to a bookstore or library, or a therapist’s office or reproductive clinic, and not know they are being watched? I imagine the majority of them have no idea.
But regardless of your political affiliation or feelings about the cameras themselves, I wonder about the practical side of it all. If there are 10,000 cameras, who’s watching the cameras? What kind of army would it require to constantly monitor the streams of activity being fed through the cameras at any given time? If there are 10,000 cameras, are there 10,000 government agents sitting behind a monitor, watching? Or does each agent get a handful to watch, say, four or six? That still means maybe 2000 government agents assigned to doing nothing but watching video feed. What an awful job that would be. Half the time you’d be people-watching, especially in the middle of the day. The other half of the time, you’d be bored to tears, especially in that block between 2 and 4 a.m. on a Tuesday morning when nothing is going on.
But seriously. How do they manage to watch 10,000 video feeds with enough regularity to make it worth anything in the long run? When I used to teach people how to use software at places like utility companies and schools, I’d usually get the few paranoid people who were worried that the powers-that-be were watching their every move. I would usually assure them that it would take an incredible amount of staff to watch the amount of employees they had at their company, and that if there was any monitoring going on, it was individual and with cause. But when you have 10,000 cameras, how do you watch with any kind of purposeful use? Hard for me to wrap my mind around that.
So, maybe they are recording everything. Yeah, that must be it. Recording it, labeling it, storing it away for if they ever need it. So what army does that? Even if it’s digital (it probably is), how many servers would that take, and people to maintain those servers, and back up those servers for redundancy? The epic size of it all defies explanation.