surveillance

Don't start counting security cameras when you're out and about unless you really want to be creeped out. When you start looking, you'll see them everywhere.

Now the city of Helena is getting into the surveillance camera business. Monday evening the Helena City Commission approved installing security cameras at Memorial Park and in some parking garages as part of a pilot project.

The goal? Reduce crime, especially vandalism. The cost? To the city's coffers, $6,000-$7,000, but to our privacy... it remains to be seen.

Many municipalities have taken similar actions in attempts to curb crime, but studies have repeatedly shown such cameras have little  or no impact at all on crime rates.

Still, cities are spending thousands of dollars on these cameras which almost only capture images of innocent citizens going about their daily business. In fact, Chicago has spent more than $60 million on its closed-circuit television camera system.

The cameras that Helena is installing will capture still images rather than video, but the ACLU of Montana still has concerns.

That's why our public policy director, Niki Zupanic, asked that only law enforcement have access to the images, that they be deleted after seven days and that signs be posted letting people know they are being watched.

"Many people still in their gut think it's kind of creepy," she told the commission.

Commissioners did limit access to the images to police, but stopped short of our other requests. The images will be retained for 30 days and no signs will be posted.

The ACLU will keep an eye on those keeping an eye on you. We believe privacy is worth protecting.

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