Photo: Emily Metcalf
Photo: Emily Metcalf

BY NATALIE IWASA – “Creepy crawlies.”  The words just came out Friday as I was providing testimony to Honolulu council members on resolution 11-229.  The title of the resolution, in part, is “Authorizing the Use of Overt Video Monitoring.”  It would allow the city to put up 30 new video cameras to temporarily monitor activities during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in November and will cost taxpayers just under $1.5 million.

Other things that come to mind when I think of video monitoring include “Big Brother,” police state, George Orwell and 1984.  But perhaps the most troublesome part about this resolution is the lack of opposition it has received from the general public.  (The ACLU did submit written testimony in opposition to the resolution and asked councilmembers to defer action on it.)

During committee and council meetings, city administration indicated there are currently about 200 cameras installed.  Approximately 90% of them are traffic cameras.  (Did you know the views from these cameras are available via the internet?)  Wayne Yoshioka, Director of Transportation Services, stated that the traffic cameras would also be used for surveillance during APEC.

These cameras are put up in the name of safety and crime reduction.  But how effective are they?  Where does it all stop?  What price are we willing to pay to feel “safe”?

Less than a year ago, council approved the addition of 14 cameras for the Weed and Seed program.  I had asked what the crime rates in surrounding areas were before and after the initial cameras were installed.  No answer was given.  Common sense tells us, however, that criminals will move down the road or around the corner and out of view of cameras to complete their “business.”

Several Honolulu council members have expressed their concerns about civil liberties in relation to this type of security, or “force multiplier” as the Honolulu Police Department calls it.  Councilmember Garcia, however, went a bit further and asked whether overt monitoring is even needed given the kind of protests that might be expected for a G7 type of gathering vs. one related to the World Trade Organization.  This is a good question that deserves serious consideration.

The resolution is headed back to the Committee on Safety, Economic Development and Government Affairs and is likely to come before council for third reading at its October meeting.

Natalie Iwasa is a CPA based in Honolulu

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