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Jeffrey Rosen Discusses Public Surveillance

Aired October 7, 2001 - 11:44   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: Since the terrorist attacks, some have suggested installing surveillance cameras in public places to increase security. Great Britain did that after IRA bombings in 1993 and 1994, and as a result of the average Briton is photographed, according to one estimate, hundreds of time a day.

In 1994, British cameras captured the abduction of a 2-year-old boy by two older children from the shopping center. And they recorded traffic incidents like this and so-called parking garage incident where one car is seeing trying to push another out of a parking space. The women caught on camera lost her life since for a year.

The issue of public surveillance is the subject of the cover story, and today's New York Times magazine, the author of that article called A Watchful State joins us now here is Jeffrey Rosen. Thanks a lot for coming in today.

JEFFREY ROSEN, NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE: Thanks for having me.

MESERVE: Of course, we have some surveillance cameras in this country now. But what makes this discussion different is they're talking about a face recognition system. Explain what that is?

ROSEN: Face recognition is a new technology called bio-matrix. That can take the measurements of your face, the distance between your eyes, and the width of your nose; and then compare that image with the database of suspected terrorist or any one else. So in Britain they found that when they installed cameras to stop terrorists in the city of London, which is their financial district. The goal was to stop terrorist but because they didn't know, who the terrorist were, the people in the database were actually low-level car thieves instead.

MESERVE: Let's go back to the technology for just a minute. Does it work or can someone alter their appearances in such a way that they can fool the cameras?

ROSEN: Well, this is the thing John Cleese and Monty Python actually did a documentary in Britain recently when he went to the London borough of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and he fooled the cameras by wearing earrings and a beard. So it's -- actually if you wear sunglasses, or if you disguise yourself, you can actually fool the cameras.

MESERVE: Or, I suppose if you have plastic surgery, if you gain a lot of weight, a various things about your face would change.

ROSEN: If you are wearing head covering too because in the face recognition requires a good view of your face. Unlike, other bio- matrix technology, which can just scan your retina and identify you that way.

MESERVE: Of course, this presumes also that there is a database to draw upon that we have photographs of alleged terrorists.

ROSEN: And this is the problem, because if, there were just terrorists in the database; it would be a great technology or an alternative to ratio profiling for example. You wouldn't have to stop innocent citizens. You just zero in on the guilty. The trouble is because terrorism is what often told has no face. The people in the databases tend to be low-level criminals. I was in the monitoring room in the City of London and when the alarms went off for the license plates that were wanted in the database, they turned out to be not terrorists but car thieves.

MESERVE: OK, so in Britain, they are not just doing the facial recognition technology. They are looking for other things as well. And, are there people monitoring these cameras?

ROSEN: They are indeed and this is the most interesting thing about actually sitting in the monitoring room, because out on the street it seems that the cameras are faceless but I sat there and watched operators, zoom in for example, if joysticks had looked like videogames in some way, you can zoom in about, you know from a football field away on the belt buckle on someone's pants.

And what catches the eye tends to be unusual things people have found that attractive women, for example, sometimes subject (UNINTELLIGIBLE) monitoring. Young men in groups, minority; basically, when you put a bunch of bored unsupervised men in front of video screens they tend to zoom in on what catches their eye and often that tends to be women.

MESERVE: So, has this all down (ph) crying in the Britain?

ROSEN: Well, this is very disputed. Some people say that it's just a magic bullet, but the criminologists who see most objective don't not see a clear connection between the cameras and the crime. Its funny when crime goes up the camera they just get the credit for detecting it, and when it goes down they get the credit for preventing it. But the fact is that crime in Britain, violent crime went up 4.3 percent this year, even as the cameras continue to pull up free.

MESERVE: As we mentioned the cameras were put in place to catch terrorist have they done that?

ROSEN: Well they have been useful in a couple of cases of identifying terrorists after the fact. There was a case called the Broxton Air Bomber, and we knew that he had a athletic bag, and the down one camera and one backward and so it come from another where he went to and were able to find him that way. But there is no convincing evidence that they prevented attacks before they actually happen.

MESERVE: What are the cautionary tails for the U.S. in all of these?

ROSEN: It's funny. Before September 11, I would have said the U.S. would have strongly resisted this technology. When cameras, were put up in Tampa Super Bowl, there was an outcry, and Americans have the strong sense of suspicion of the state, their reluctance to defer to authority. After September 11, it's quite different, and there's a real question whether we want to go down this road of putting cameras up all over our public and private spaces and change in the character of our social life as a result.

MESERVE: What is then another pet question? What gives you pass?

ROSEN: I don't like the fact, and you always still need to justify your innocence when the cameras are on. Like when you go into a store, and you buy some -- you hold it up to the cameras, you couldn't have been actually steal it without sense of that you greatly did something wrong when the cameras are looking at you, prevailed to it all times.

There is also a real conservative use to classify and exclude people from, you know, if you have committed a small crime in the past, say shoplifting; every time you to go into a store in the future you're branded as a shoplifter and couldn't they actually ban people from the city centers even for low-level crimes. In America you have a strong tradition that you shouldn't be burdened by your database your past. The opportunities should at least be open to you, and you should be able to reinvent yourself and every days on and very concerned about as a technology of classification of an exclusion.

MESERVE: Jeffrey Rosen, the article A Watchful State in today's New York Times Magazine. Thanks a lot for joining us. And now Kyra back to you.

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