Downtown cameras pose little threat

Prof C Explains
4 min readSep 1, 2009

by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist

At the July 20 Columbia City Council meeting, Adam and Karen Taylor requested that council members reconsider a proposal to install city-owned video surveillance cameras in the downtown area, a measure that had been previously voted down by council members largely because it was feared such surveillance would violate the privacy rights of residents.

Adam Taylor was the victim of a brutal attack in a city parking garage, a case that was largely solved because it had been captured on video. Speaking directly to the issue of balancing public safety with the right to privacy, Adam and his mother, Karen, made compelling arguments for city cameras in the downtown area, a project that had been in the works for some time before being squashed by the council in April; money had already been allocated, and a pilot project had been conducted in the spring.

Since then the Taylors have taken their case to the public with a Web site,, a Facebook page, Twitter tweets and various media appearances. The people of Columbia have reacted overwhelmingly to their cause. More than 1,600 people have participated in their online survey, 91 percent of whom support the use of mobile video cameras downtown.

Those concerned about privacy rights have good reason to react negatively to any proposal for governmental monitoring of our activities. It seems like each month we learn of some secret, and often patently illegal, government program to collect information about us, supposedly justified in the name of national security and keeping us safe. And I count myself among the officially paranoid about the amount of information my government collects and keeps about law-abiding citizens.

However, I see little to fear from the proposal to install security cameras downtown.

First, the areas targeted for camera deployment are used primarily for business or governmental activities. Cameras are not going to be placed in residential areas.

Second, there are already lots of cameras installed downtown by public institutions and private businesses. Images of Columbians wandering about downtown are already being recorded each day. And in the case of recording by a private landowner or business, there is little control over how that recording is used, how long it is kept or who has access to it. It can be used for market research, for…

Prof C Explains

J Scott Christianson: UM Teaching Prof, Technologist & Entrepreneur. Connect with me here: