Cambridge may be one of the first cities in the nation to squash a move to put surveillance cameras on city streets, saying it’s worried about residents’ privacy rights, but the decision may end up costing the city the more than a quarter of a million dollars that’s already been spent on the project.
“Because of the slow erosion of our civil liberties since 9/11, it is important to raise questions regarding these cameras,” said Marjorie Decker, a Cambridge city councilor.
The council voted 9-0 against building the network of eight video cameras throughout the city on Feb. 2 after hearing different opinions during two sessions about the video cameras.
Cambridge, along with Boston, Brookline, Chelsea, Everett, Quincy, Revere, Somerville and Winthrop, are all recipients of the $4.6 million grant given by the Department of Homeland Security. The grant has been in development for four to six years and was designed to provide money to cities to create wireless video surveillance networks.
The $264,000 has already been spent on the camera surveillance project in Cambridge, Fire Chief Gerald Reardon said. It is unclear if Cambridge will have to pay back this money.
A request was filed by the city on Feb. 9 for the city manager to set a plan for the cameras’ removal and to inform the Department of Homeland Security.
Currently, Mount Auburn Hospital, the Porter Square Exchange building, CCTV’s Central Square building, the Inman Square fire station, 812 Memorial Drive and 364 Rindge Avenue have surveillance cameras installed for the project.
Some Cambridge citizens have raised concerns about the use of the cameras.
“I would worry about invasion of privacy,” said Phil Lau, a Cambridge resident. “I would also question what kind of message it sends to the residents of Cambridge? It’s a diverse neighborhood and non-U.S. citizens might feel marginalized.
Video surveillance is currently being used in Boston by the fire, police and transportation departments.
“Departments that watch overall public safety, day to day traffic, and the monitoring of major key areas of the city all use the video camera network in Boston,” said Donald McGough, director of Boston’s office of emergency preparedness. “It aids in their ability to serve, especially during large events and emergencies.”
Cambridge city councilors concluded that the benefits of the video cameras were not enough to outweigh the questions raised about them, Decker said.
Councilors were also concerned about why wasn’t the city council involved in the grant’s creation if the cameras were meant to assist cities on a local level.
“Cambridge is a small city. Why would we need cameras to monitor evacuation routes?” said Decker.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts partnered with Cambridge councilors in questioning the camera surveillance network in the city.
“What agencies would have access to the camera’s digital images?” said Nancy Murray, the director of education at the ACLUM. “What guarantees would residents have that (the images) would not be used for purposes other than traffic control?”
Before Cambridge made its decision, Brookline, another community that has access to the Homeland Security grant, decided differently. In January, its Board of Selectman voted 3-2 in favor of a one-year trial for the video camera network. TheBostonChannel.com