Prediction: success from Boston surveillance in bombing manhunt will lead to more spying everywhere

"The images captured in Boston are validation of a three-year project in St. Louis to link 150 surveillance cameras into a single security system throughout the city’s central corridor, from the riverfront to Forest Park," reports Doug Moore at This despite a statement by Boston's police chief that facial recognition technology system did not help find the suspects. How much you wanna bet the "surveillance imaging solved this crime" argument will lead to more forceful pushes for expanded surveillance imaging in any number of other American cities? (HT: @kgosztola)


  1. I’m absolutely against America turning into a surveillance state but there is something to be said for all the evidence captured by CCTV when a crime is committed. There needs to be a balance between personal liberty and public safety and my biggest fear is that covert domestic intelligence gathering is outside our foundational system of checks & balances.

    1. Fine as long as we are allowed to photograph and film the authorities and businesses also.    Right now doing so is treated as a criminal act.

  2. Now here is something else to consider. You would like to think that the surveillance video would help protect US from the police. You would be wrong. Just this week the Cop (Tony Bologna_) who pepper sprayed those two Occupy women was not prosecuted. The judge said that without video before and after the incident they couldn’t be sure it wasn’t justified.

    Or how about the case where they Occupy Wall street person was accused of attacking an officer. The police had a camera person their but the camera “wasn’t turned on” now in this case it was Occupy person against Cop and the Cop was going to walk, but luckly there was a camera person their from Democracy Now who had enough footage before during and after to show that the Occupy person did nothing. 

    So my conclusion is, ‘If you are going to be in a surveillance society, don’t assume it will protect you. Start your own surveillance and stream it off site. This gives you the ability to at least have a different angle of the image to be used to defend yourself.”   They are tapping you, tape them. 


      The judge said that without video before and after the incident they couldn’t be sure it wasn’t justified.

      This is so backwards from my personal view of the responsibilities of state power.  The police should have to justify their use of force.  It should not be on citizens to prove that they were beaten/tazed/sprayed/arrested unprovoked.

  3. It’s already underway.  This practically guarantees that we’ll literally have surveillance cameras on every street corner, building door, and light pole in every city in less than 2 years.  The companies that make the cameras and software and the whores in Congress are drooling over the thought of the money to be made.  We’ll wind up having a police state in the name of capitalism.

    1. Could get real interesting in smaller municipalities, where the incidence of few real crimes leaves authorities plenty of time to persecute those who commit more minor offenses. Fine notices in the mail for not cleaning up after your dog? Coming right up!

      1. Fine notices in the mail for not cleaning up after your dog? Coming right up!

        That’s what’s happened in the UK with fines for putting your trash can out too early, not cleaning up after your dog and extensive surveillance on families to make sure that they’re not sending their children to the wrong school for where they live.

  4. Bingo…any lingering hope that we might be free from constant and omnipresent recording “for our own good” is now gone. As is any hope in reducing the militarization of police forces. I was quite torn when I saw how quickly the police were responding to a violent pair of commandos, and how quickly they had video analyzed, but appalled at how much military equipment they had in the streets so quickly. I have no doubt this trend will grow as every town and city points to Boston while requesting more SWAT equipment, more snipers, more surveillance, and more policies authorizing the use of military-grade force.

    The drones are coming, and they’ll be watching you…forever. We can’t put this genie back in the bottle since it seemingly worked so well here.

    I’d be surprised if phone providers aren’t soon required to provide remote, autonomous downloading of user’s pics and videos at the request of police. after all then they wouldn’t have to ask the public for info that would solve a crime. They’ll say that since cellphones require use of publicly regulated spectrum, there is no requirement for privacy.

    1.  Actually, the Boston and Watertown police fucked that confrontation up so badly* that I think there’s a pretty good case to be made for demilitarizing the police and using Homeland Security to do anti-terror work.

      But I don’t like that outcome either.  I wish local law enforcement had just kept their shit together.

      *When the perp steals a car with lojack or GPS don’t chase the suspect.  Now you know exactly where the suspect is and there is no reason to chase which will almost inevitably lead to more property damage, injuries, and possibly deaths as in this case.  Block avenues for escape and corral the suspect into a parking lot or something.

  5. What has face recognition got to do with anything? The St. Louis project doesn’t use it…
    Looks like the anti-surveillance arguments need a bit more work.

    1. ?  I don’t see that as an anti-surveillance argument in the first place.

      If you’re not convinced by the standard and obvious anti-surveillance arguments then I would encourage you to put a CCTV camera in every room in your house with a direct feed over to your local police.

  6. What did happen (it seems to me) is that seeing their own faces on TV rattled them to the extent they lost it. The bombers in spain were caught on camera also, no? and in London? Your prediction, though accurate, lacks notability. The rock will continue to roll down hill, now a little faster.

    1.  They blew up a major sporting event in Boston. And then went home and acted like they wouldn’t be found. So, morons. If they had not been morons, they would have been many hundreds of miles away.

  7. Never mind the facial recognition, not even centralizing the surveillance video would have made any difference. In Boston, the FBI did the footwork to find every camera and get ever bit of footage. Shit, they would have jury rigged a data rescue apparatus if they discovered a camera recording to fucking Betamax if need be. 

    1. Despite the high-tech reputation, much of the FBI’s video work is in retrieving footage in obsolete formats.

      1. Only if everybody does it.  If only a few people stand and shout, then those people will be monitored even more closely.

  8. if horrible_social_event
      more surveillance
      fewer freedoms
      more guns
      more police
      more xenophobia

    that’s how terrorism functions

    1.  Isn’t it interesting how the goals of the terrorists and those of the fascists so resemble each other?

      1. It’s almost as if they’d suit eachother in a special, remote, gated community somewhere, leaving the rest of us (who obviously don’t care enough about important things) to get on with our lives.

    2. I can’t help but notice you threw in “more guns” since pretty much every horrible social event involving firearms has led to citizens asking for more firearm restrictions.

      Admittedly I know very little about fascism (feel free to correct me) but shouldn’t a movement toward fascism also include a movement towards fewer firearms and more government control.

    1. even if so, the case can/will still be made that the discovery was made using surveillance/”public images”.

  9. There can be balance.

    St. Louis. Look at the surveillance map, and notice how the cameras are clumped around the hospital, the smaller parks, the sports arena, the waterfront, etc.
    It’s only the main corridor, and not much residential property.

    Cameras in public places where the people meet is fine with me. It’s not like you aren’t being watched now when gathered in those areas at any given time. It’s public. There’s no expectation of privacy.

    However…please stay out of my house, my yard, and my internet with your constant monitoring. Make it the homeowner’s responsibility if they want security cameras.

    Shopping centers and restaurants? Fine, if it’s discreet. Also, dogs with excellent noses can be more efficient (and much less creepy) than drones for catching criminals on the loose in your neighborhood.

    1. “It’s not like you aren’t being watched now when gathered in those areas at any given time. It’s public. There’s no expectation of privacy.”

      I think there’s a difference between no expectation of privacy and constantly being recorded. Case in point everything you’ve mentioned that shouldn’t be recorded (besides your home) are considered public places. 

      1. I do realize they are all public places, but I also doubt that large groups of people are prone to gather in my front yard the way they do at public parks, hospitals, or sports arenas. Easement laws do take into account varying degrees of necessity when it comes to access, don’t they?

        I’m trying to make a reasonable argument for sane practices — for example — recording only, in VERY public places in order to solve crimes. No facial recognition, no access for marketing practices whatsoever. I’m not out to push the argument to extremes just to prove a point.

        Oh, and I’ll give you the “internet”, as it is a wide-open, public place. What I meant by “my internet” was e-mails and browsing history (which should be allowed to remain private).

  10. So, do the surveillance yourselves… what if, at the next big public event, everyone who attends is encouraged to take their camera / smartphone, and ask everyone standing around them to pose with them for happy-snaps… say hello to the other people there… introduce yourselves… become a community. (Then take note of anyone who hides or slinks away.) Isn’t one of the reasons these kinds of attacks occur because people feel alienated?

    1. The sense of community you’re discussing (which already regularly exists in places where strangers gather, minus the photos) actually serves to make the alienated feel even more alienated. 

      For these people it’s not the community or lack thereof at issue, but themselves. I know because I often feel alienated myself, even among my family and friends, in my hometown (actually it’s the worst there) and other communities I’ve technically been a part of. It all feels false to me, especially among groups of strangers gathered at events and the like.

      I know (but many alienated people don’t know) that I’m no different from anyone else and that it’s my own fault I feel alienated from the community – it stems from personal paranoia and social anxiety. Those things aren’t particularly compatible with overly-friendly strangers trying to take your photo. 

      So yeah, your plan would work in some sense – you will be able to spot the people who hide and slink away – people who feel alienated or are just shy or whatever. And 99.99999% of the time, it is just someone with social anxieties who is already uncomfortable in crowds and who will never harm anyone, who you just made feel worse than they already did.

      I think that’s actually worse than ubiquitous state-run CCTV – it’s a modern version of cold war Eastern European surveillance state stuff where your neighbors inform on you and nobody trusts anybody.

    2. “Take note of anyone who hides or slinks away.”

      Great. It’s not the Muslims; brown-skinned; white-trash neo-Nazis or dissffected yoof – now it’s us introverts.

      Well, at least when the neighbours say after the arrest, “he was very quiet and kept to himself” we’ll know why.

  11. Success from Boston surveillance in bombing manhunt will lead to more spying everywhere.

    From Success to Fail in one sentence, in record time.

    1.  Perhaps you should look into what “spying” actually entails.  I’m pretty sure the CIA don’t have any jurisdictional qualms about analyzing CCTV footage of public spaces if it’s salient to their objectives.

      1. Again, who cares if the CIA — which is not relevant to this post, by the way — or anyone else looks at footage of public space?

        It’s PUBLIC.

  12. Prediction: The next time something like this happens, extensive surveillance will not help and will lead to more spying everywhere.

  13. Good article here about how little the surveillance apparatus helped in the Boston case.

    The author suggests the thought experiment “let’s assume every detail of the attack is the same except that it occurred in 1977”. His answer: the bombers would have been caught and events would have unfolded in much the same way.

  14. OK!  WHO makes the surveillance cameras and are they a publicly owned company?  

    Does the justice department, local law enforcement, CIA, Homeland Security, etc have a contract with a specific provider?

    Who is going to install and maintain them?  

    An inquiring capitalist wants to know.

    1. “WHO makes the surveillance cameras”

      I’ll stick my neck out here and say, “the Chinese”. This isn’t like the body scanners – cameras are established tech made by dozens of different companies. Similarly dozens if not hundreds of companies can fit them. Now the software which may or may not be used is a lot more specialised.

      For me the argument being made in the OP is that the technology isn’t good enough yet and we need more cameras and better facial recognition. I’m not even sure how “the authorities” are supposed to be abusing this sort of surveillance, most of which isn’t even under their direct control. Sure, I can come up with examples of how they could abuse it, but I can make up stories in my head until the cows come home.

      Why is it so easy to assume that the authorities will abuse surveillance, but coming up with positive uses for the technology is apparently inconceivable? 

      ANY photograph or video you take can be sequestered by the authorities, so if people truly detest surveillance they shouldn’t contribute to it by posting pictures of their brunch to Facebook.

      1. Why is it so easy to assume that the authorities will abuse surveillance, but coming up with positive uses for the technology is apparently inconceivable?

        No application of technology is purely “good” or purely “bad” — there’s always tradeoffs and differences of opinion between people with different goals and different values.  It’s always a question of costs vs benefits.

        Read “We” by Zamyatin.  It’s a negative utopia often mentioned in the same breath as 1984 and Brave New World.  In it the walls of the dwellings are transparent because no one has anything to hide and surveillance technology is completely ubiquitous built into every surface of everything.  Surely there are benefits to living in such a world; can you see the costs?

  15. Every mass shooting and terrorist incident has involved more loss of civil liberties.  The government was initially most flagrant w/ the 2nd Amendment “because everyone hates guns”, but now it’s a lot more flagrant w/ ignoring the rest of the Bill of Individual Rights :-P

    1. So cameras will prevent crime?  Ok, can we put them in corporate boardrooms?  How about monitoring brokerages?  If violent crime can justify this then so can white collar crimes but that might hit too close to home for the WSJ.

      I like how he drags the ACLU into it.  How dare they defend the Constitution.  Nice touch.

      1. I imagine some of this “screw privacy” attitude of the WSJ actually comes from the financial world, where pervasive surveillance has been accepted for a long time.  Boardrooms don’t have surveillance cameras, but they do have detailed minutes taken of who attended, what was discussed, who voted what way, etc., that can be used in any investigation.  Look at some of the option backdating scandals from a few years back, for example.

        And the financial industry is more closely watched than almost any industry out there.  Just about every telephone conversation and e-mail at a Wall Street brokerage is recorded and logged and (these days) analyzed to detect fraudulent or overly risky activity.   The surveillance system doesn’t stop everything (particularly systemic misjudgments of risk, e.g., the London Whale, the collapse of Lehman, etc.), but I suspect you’d have a hell of a lot more insider trading and similar problems if you didn’t have it.

        Heck, in the same issue of the WSJ, they have a story today about how securities regulators are seeking exceptions to state social networking privacy laws as they are concerned that too much privacy for the financial industry could lead to an uptick in fraud and insider trading.

        None of this is to say that I think pervasive surveillance of ordinary citizens on the street is a good idea, though.

  16. One of the biggest problems with police/government praising the use of CCT, is that it IS NOT a crime PREVENTION method, it only helps to solve crimes after they’ve happened.  That’s great and all – try winning over all the survivors and the families of the victims by saying that cameras are a crime prevention tool and then try and explain that these people didn’t have to die…

    I don’t want to draw any parallels to 1984, Brave New World, , but I’m fairly certain that we are “on course”, so congrats! 

    1.  “One of the biggest problems with police  is that it IS NOT a crime PREVENTION method, it only helps to
      solve crimes after they’ve happened.”


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