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Chicago expanding Big Brother camera network



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Updated: August 3, 2011 9:22PM

Chicago’s Big Brother network of over 10,000 public and private surveillance cameras is already the most extensive and integrated in the nation. But, it’s about to get even bigger.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel chaired his first Public Building Commission meeting on Tuesday and joined his fellow members in adding three potential terrorist targets to the city’s surveillance network: the Board of Trade, the Federal Reserve and the AT&T switching center.

All three are located in Chicago’s financial nerve center. But, they apparently constituted gaping holes in Chicago’s camera network.

“It’s necessary. They’re key buildings. They were not a part of the network. The fiber had already been laid. I don’t know if I’d use the word weird or strange. But, if you’ve laid the fiber and you have key pieces of critical national security … that don’t have the cameras,” they should be added, Emanuel said.

“Work’s been done. We should complete it because it’s identified as important in the Homeland Security reports. ... The camera network is a part of security and safety for the city.”

During the meeting, Erin Lavin Cabonargi, executive director of the Public Building Commission, disclosed that the commission has already installed 3,300 surveillance cameras at key government buildings and other potential terrorist targets.

The new cameras will be paid for with a $650,000 federal Homeland Security grant.

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union pushed for a moratorium on new surveillance cameras and new rules to safeguard citizens’ privacy.

The ACLU argued that cameras “invade the freedom to be anonymous in public places” and that the millions of dollars spent on cameras would have been better spent hiring more police officers to ease a severe manpower shortage.

The group also questioned the effectiveness of the cameras.

Six months later, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano toured Chicago’s 911 emergency center and ranked the city’s “very robust camera infrastructure” among the “top two or three” in the nation.

Asked to identify rivals, she named only New York City.

“It’s not just cameras. They are interconnected and then connected back here to tell first responders what they’re going to be confronting,” she said then.

Pressed on whether the ever-expanding network was a good thing, Napolitano said, “Absolutely. If you look at cities around the world — like London, for example, [and] Madrid has been employing more cameras — they are deterrents. But, they are also force multipliers. They enable us to make the best use of our first responders.”

Also at Tuesday’s Public Building Commission meeting, Emanuel pledged to double the number of city-owned buildings with the environmentally friendly LEED certification over the next four years. Chicago already leads the nation with 41 such government-owned buildings.

“Nothing gets done unless you have a goal,” the mayor said.

“We lead the country. ... And I want to set a goal so we don’t rest on our laurels. ... It creates jobs. It’s energy efficiency. And it … adds to the lure of the city. As people and businesses look around, they see a city that’s seizing the future and making the changes necessary to be more energy-efficient and create jobs at the same time.”

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It’s an internationally-recognized certification system for sustainable buildings developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The group provides building owners with a framework for identifying and implementing green building design, construction, operations and maintenance.

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