Lancaster, PA: the most spied-upon town in America

Historic Lancaster, PA is about to become the most surveilled town in America (though they've got nothing on London, where we have 14 cameras per red blood cell and yet still, this unmanageably gigantic mountain of meaningless video surveillance hasn't magically made all the criminals turn honest).

Some 165 closed-circuit TV cameras soon will provide live, round-the-clock scrutiny of nearly every street, park and other public space used by the 55,000 residents and the town's many tourists. That's more outdoor cameras than are used by many major cities, including San Francisco and Boston.

Unlike anywhere else, cash-strapped Lancaster outsourced its surveillance to a private nonprofit group that hires civilians to tilt, pan and zoom the cameras — and to call police if they spot suspicious activity. No government agency is directly involved…

Mary Pat Donnellon, head of Mission Research, a local software company, vowed to move if she finds one on her block. "I don't want to live like that," she said. "I'm not afraid. And I don't need to be under surveillance."

"No one has the right to know who goes in and out my front door," agreed David Mowrer, a laborer for a company that supplies quarry pits. "That's my business. That's not what America is about."…

Mary Catherine Roper, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, says the coalition's role as a self-appointed, self-policed gatekeeper for blanket surveillance of an entire city is unique.

"This is the first time, the only time, I've heard of it anywhere," she said. "It is such a phenomenally bad idea that it is stunning to me."

She said the coalition structure provides no public oversight or accountability, and may be exempt from state laws governing release of public records.

"When I hear people off the street can come in and apply to watch the camera on my street, now I'm terrified," she added. "That could be my nosy neighbor, or my stalker ex-boyfriend, or a burglar stalking my home."

Jack Bauer, owner of the city's largest beer and soft drink distributor, calls the network "a great thing." His store hasn't been robbed, he said, since four cameras went up nearby.

"There's nothing wrong with instilling fear," he said.

Lancaster, Pa., keeps a close eye on itself

(Thanks, Timothy!)