Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Texan webcams

One of the things I like to do when I write a column is tie two seemingly disparate stories together. It forces the reader to participate a little more deeply in the reading process, to think a little harder about what I'm trying to say. It's a fun way to get folks involved.

While choosing a topic for my piece in today's paper, I noticed that the Texas governor was installing webcams to monitor the Mexican border. (Apparently, they have an immigration issue down there...who knew?) Even better, the footage would be fed to the Internet, and citizens would be allowed to watch, then call in a toll-free number when they see something amiss. Cool! This could very well be the most brilliant use of free labor since Nike put its first swoosh on a sneaker (then a t-shirt, and a ball cap, and...)

London spent oodles of money a few years back installing a downtown camera surveillance system. In a classic London move, the footage is actually watched eight hours every night. Over the course of the other 16 hours, the footage is sent into oblivion because no one ever thought that staffing the thing 24/7 might be a Good Thing.

As is typical of my burg, good ideas like the Texas webcam thing are often completely ignored. We live in a fishbowl covered with a thick, opaque substance not unlike crystallized honey. We're patently unable to learn from the best practices of others unless they are wrapped up in a pretty little bow and gently deposited on our doorstep.

I was out of bows when I wrote this. But I thought no one would look a gifthorse in the mouth no matter how badly it was packaged. Here's the piece from today's paper:
Texas plan might boost surveillance
Published Wednesday, June 7, 2006
The London Free Press

Do you want to become the eyes and ears of our city? Do you want to help London save money as it decides what to do about downtown video surveillance cameras that sit idle for 16 hours a day? The governor of Texas has come up with an interesting idea.

Rick Perry has proposed installing web cameras on the state’s border with Mexico. Live, around-the-clock video feeds from the cameras would be made available over the Internet. Regular citizens could log in from home and watch. If they see any illegal attempts to cross the border, they’ll be asked to call a special toll-free number.

Although London doesn’t have much of an immigration problem, the idea of citizens watching the city from the comfort of their homes has merit. It wouldn’t cost appreciably more because the cameras and supporting infrastructure are already in place. We could even use the novelty of our new network to boost tourism.

Sure, it sounds crazy. But so does spending six-figure amounts on cameras that sit idle.

Your turn: Are webcam-vigilante-citizens the answer for controlling crime and keeping folks on the right side of the border? Would you welcome such a program in your city?


Star said...

Seems like ot should be a good idea. I will withhold judgement until theory becomes practice. I have no issue with surveillance cameras. Living in a major metropolitan area I am too well aware that the crooks and ne'er -do-wells- far out number our police force.

OldMotherHubbardSharesAll said...

This Texas girl says - YES to the camera's and to citizens being the eyes and ears of justice.

How about we take it a step further, and let's erect an electric fence completely along the border so they get a "shock" as they cross. Okay bad idea but i do like the camera idea.

KaraMia said...

I like the idea of it being viewable to citizens, however, since I work for local government, I can imagine the headaches involved with crank calls and having to follow up on them and the expense...and yadda yadda yadda.
Still, a good idea if the bugs can get worked out.

rashbre said...

In the other London over here in World Cup England, we can dial up a number of the central London webcams and also the traffic cams and this can sometimes be useful for a quick look at the traffic/weather and so on.

And with the congestion charge for central London, every car in the inner zone now gets its registration plate (tag?) recorded as it goes into the middle. This is ostensibly becasue of the daily £8 USD12 charge for driving in the central area.

So I guess there's quite a lot of technology around and deployed now to be able to see what's happening...

ribbiticus said...

it seems like reality tv taken a bit too far, isn't it? i can't imagine actually staying home to help patrol the border via a webcam, can you? a novel idea but i agree with kara mia, the cons might just outweigh the pros if it isn't thought out well before implementation.

BoyJunket said...

Not to mention you accomplish the "first time ever" feat of using the words "good idea" and "Texas" in the same sentence.

Honestly (and somewhat seriously), I've been listening to this border debate for months upon years now, and the truth of the matter is, nothing's going to deter people from doing what they're going to do. The only thing that will even approach solving the problem is to make commiting the crime less appetizing, which means stronger penalties against those who hire illegals.

Yes, I realize this isn't the actually the slant of your column. I just got so caught up... So, um, yeah film anything you want.

Dara said...

I hear plans like this and it reminds me of The Handmaid's Tale and 1984 and Minority Report and V. I don't like it! In a related incident, I heard a headline on the news yesterday about a community in Scottsdale (Arizona) that PAID residents for tattling on one another! Such infringements as not putting their trash can away or painting their house the wrong color. Scary.