CCTV lecture and readings discussion thread

hey everyone! thanks for joining Kade’s lecture! let’s share our thoughts about it and this week’s readings here. also, it looks like the recording did work even though my computer froze (yay!) so as soon as that finishes converting I’ll share a link to the uploaded video.

I have another meeting right now but after that I’m gonna jump in here with some of my thoughts.

There was a great deal of information from Kade Crockford to process. I thought the lecture and ideas discussed were extremely provocative. I also thought there were some great questions in the Q/A which led to a robust discussion. I’m very interested in hearing from members of the cohort regarding specific interactions they may have had in dealing with CCTV and surveillance while in the field. During my days as a librarian with Prince George’s County Memorial Library System (PGCMLS), I worked at a branch in which the CCTV system was quite antiquated and marginally functional. Whenever specific incident reports were filed that required review of video from the CCTV system at the branch, there was never clear enough evidence to actually be of any use.

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I really enjoyed the lecture and thought it was really informative. I work at the Central Library at a 36 branch system where CCTV is extensively used. Our Central Library was open five years ago and is humongous with 9 floors and two of those floors is occupied by a high school. Although we have three security guards patrolling the building at all time the building has many hidden spaces. Cameras are mainly installed near elevators and outside restrooms but not in the stacks. Most of the time each of the floor is only monitor by one staff working the reference desk. We’ve had many issues include drug overdose and prostitution. We also recently installed more cameras to monitor expensive equipment when we opened a makerspace. We experienced a few equipment theft as well when someone walked out with one of our iMac computer with expensive software.

These recordings are public records and I have processed a few requests from the public and media for incidents that happened on our premise.

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Good news – my frozen computer didn’t screw up the recording! So I’ll get that uploaded and posted asap.

Some quick notes from what Kade discussed:

  • Libraries should make time for informed public debate and comment around CCTV use. ideally it would be great to share resources on both efficacy and security/privacy concerns before the debate period.
  • Libraries need strong policies governing how CCTV is used, including answers to the following questions (very important to think of for this week’s assignment!!):
  1. What are the cameras capable of? eg are they networked with remote access, can they swivel/zoom, etc
  2. Who has access to the feed, both in real time and to archives?
  3. How long are the records stored? Are they subject to public records law (in most libraries, yes, meaning that anyone can request the footage)? What is the minimum time they can be kept for compliance?
  4. What are the cameras NOT there for? Another way to think of this is to think through unintended consequences of having surveillance cameras, or how they can be used for “mission creep” (Kade gave the example of the USAPATRIOT Act being created for “national security” but being used for routine drug investigations).
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I thought this line from one of our readings for this week was fascinating. From “Video Surveillance in Public Libraries”, the library that installed a CCTV system but then opted to remove it said this about why they did so:

“The cameras have also created an adversarial relationship between [the library], local law enforcement agencies and crime victims. In our attempts to cooperate with police while
maintaining patron privacy, staff have experienced intense pressure to release footage on demand, without requiring a warrant or court order… Our efforts to protect patron confidentiality [are] viewed as uncooperative and hindering criminal investigation.”

@langur, can you talk any more about the records requests from members of the public who aren’t in the media? I’m really curious about that.

Our city has a public record request portal that anyone can go on and submit a request for city records including from the library since we’re a department of the city. Here is a request for CCTV footage for an incident at the library: https://sandiego.nextrequest.com/requests/16-2420

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I thought found this lecture fascinating, and I really liked Kade’s 3 questions to ask about proposed surveillance and policy recommendations. We don’t have CCTV cameras in my library or (I had to double-check with public safety about this) anywhere on campus at the community college where I work, and I haven’t heard or any proposal to add them.

The region where I live feels pretty surveillance-averse. After a lot of contentious debate, my city council recently passed an ordinance restricting surveillance cameras from being permanently installed in the downtown business district, and then later overrode the mayor’s veto of the measure.

It’s not library-related (and may be counter to the tenor of this conversation), but some friends and I have been lobbying to get legislation passed in MA that would allow for stop-arm cameras on school buses. These allow for ticketing of people who pass a stopped school bus. Currently in this state, drivers only get ticketed if a police officer sees them, which apparently is not enough of a deterrent because it happens all the time. This lecture has made me think a lot more about the protections that would have to be built into any system like that–it should only be recording when the stop-arm is extended, and ideally only when triggered by a passing vehicle, and not be networked.

This lecture made me realize how little I actually know about our CCTV use. We have cameras in some of the branches, but I’m not sure how the footage is used. I’ve been in touch with folks from administration to get a better understanding of our policies concerning CCTV. We do have cameras at our branch that monitor activity in the parking lot, but as far as I know we’ve never captured footage of anything happening. There has been a lot of discussion on my neighborhood listserve about “crime still happening despite security cameras.” Something that resonated with me in the readings was how the library system that got rid of cameras started using human interactions to help deter crime. ie: hiring more teen librarians, security guards, etc.

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Kade’s lecture was fascinating and informative. I hadn’t really thought about CCTV in libraries before. In fact, it was just last month that I saw my first library with a CCTV. I was visiting a library in Miami that has one, with a security guard at the front Information desk watching the live feed. I was waiting to talk to the librarian and noticed the security guard and maybe a trainee laughing while watching the tv screen. It made me very uncomfortable. This particular library has a high school right across the street and is not in the best of neighborhoods, and it just added to that feeling of mistrust of the community.

I’ve worked for a couple of libraries in bad neighborhoods and at no point did anyone ever bring up CCTV. I can understand why there is appeal to it, but for me it just sends such a negative message to the community. The library is supposed to serve, help, and reflect its community, not monitor them.

One of my biggest takeaways from Kade’s lecture was the idea that this footage, in most cases, would be public record. It’s one thing for local government documents and emails to be public record, but to then add hours of footage of the community to the public record just seems risky.

To be honest, I had not thought much about surveillance cameras.

I’m waiting for confirmation from our Safety and Security Manager and will update this as needed, but this is what I know about cameras in my building and branches: there are CCTVs that feed into our security office at the Main Branch where guards can see them–wall of screens setup. Safety and Security Manager also has access in his private office and remote access. Currently, he is the sole employee with remote access. The cameras are placed outside elevators, in open public spaces, and in some study rooms. Cameras can pan and zoom. Guards can track specific a patrons. The study room cameras are the exception to the above. They can also be accessed on staff workstations at the public desks that administer particular study rooms and they cannot pan and zoom. They are just a bird’s eye view. Footage is only kept for so long but I don’t know how long. Guards are willing share footage with administrators and police. Not sure about warrant requirements in criminal investigations. My feeling is, if the police asked, they would share without a warrant. But much like Kade and their bike, sometimes the police are indifferent about the problems our guards bring to them. Not sure if the footage is subject to public records request, but arguably, of course it is(?). Typically, we use the footage as evidence after the fact for minor crimes; e.g., “look, we have you on camera right here stealing those CDs.”

Other interesting anecdotes: once a patron claimed he had been stabbed by another patron. We had footage of the patron cutting themselves, and not being stabbed. Once, a decision was made to put a camera on an isolated staff area that the public also had access to for the “staff member’s safety” without informing that staff member. This was only staff area under surveillance besides elevators and public entrances. When the staff member found out they were the only staff member under video surveillance they pushed back. Not sure of the details, but there was a resolution that satisfied all parties.

Interesting dichotomy: who do cameras make feel safe vs. who do cameras make feel threatened? In the latter latter anecdote, the staff member did not feel safe with the camera on them. Another way to frame the question, who has power and who is disenfranchised? Another thing that Kade said that stuck with me, “abuse is guaranteed.” My initial instinct is that I agree, but it raises questions of how much abuse is acceptable? And why is abuse guaranteed? Human nature? Perhaps that is outside the scope of this class? Perhaps not.

Per the lecture, there seems to be a disconnect between as to why CCTVs are implemented and what they actually do. They defer minor crimes but do not prevent major / violent crimes. They are advertise as being useful in solving crimes, but their impact seems negligible. If ALA’s Code of Ethics and Bill of the Rights and their interpretations are what constitute “library ethics” then using the cameras to determine what people read / access would be a violation.

Not counter to this convo at all. I’m glad you have direct experience with this tension between accountability and privacy, and I think your example would fit really well into a community conversation about surveillance and its unintended consequences. It reminds me of the arguments for and against police bodycams. And given our readings for this week, I think in addition to the points you raised about limiting what those cameras can collect, you should make clear that law enforcement should only have access to them with a warrant.

Yes! Human interactions are more effective and don’t come with the negative unintended consequences of surveillance tech. I’d be interested in reading more about how the library was able to pull off these changes. Like how did they find the funds for more staff?!?! And absent funding for new positions, how could other libraries adopt a similar approach without overloading their existing staff?

We have CCTV at the state agency where I work. The cameras are only outside. We don’t have any inside. I know some of the cameras are trained on parking lots where staff who travel out into the state for consulting, training, etc. park and where agency-owned vehicles are parked. These staff members may be coming to or leaving the agency well after normal hours when no one else is around. I am sometimes one of these staff members and will admit that the cameras make me feel a little bit safer (perhaps naively after this week’s reading).

I know our footage is stored for 2 weeks before it is wiped automatically. Footage can be saved for longer if there is a reason. We have monitors at the front desk at an angle where only the person working the desk can see them and some executive staff have access to the feed.

While we are a state agency, I think gaining access to our footage would fall under our state’s laws that govern library records and would require a warrant. This is definitely something to explore further though! I’m not part of the team that makes CCTV decisions and I’m little surprised I’ve never thought about our policy surrounding them before.

As for city-wide networked CCTV systems: I actually had no idea these were prevalent at all. I’ve seen them on a lot of the BBC shows I watch (particularly Shetland) where they ask a detective to pull up the live footage on a particular stretch of street and I just thought that was more of TV being full of tech that doesn’t actually work that way. I knew there were cameras all over cities, I just never considered that they might all be linked together and able to be accessed in real time that quickly. Embarrassed to say I just actually never gave it much thought.

I’m waiting for confirmation from our Safety and Security Manager and will update this as needed, but this is what I know about cameras in my building and branches: there are CCTVs that feed into our security office at the Main Branch where guards can see them–wall of screens setup. Safety and Security Manager also has access in his private office and remote access. Currently, he is the sole employee with remote access. The cameras are placed outside elevators, in open public spaces, and in some study rooms. Cameras can pan and zoom. Guards can track specific a patrons. The study room cameras are the exception to the above. They can also be accessed on staff workstations at the public desks that administer particular study rooms and they cannot pan and zoom. They are just a bird’s eye view. Footage is only kept for so long but I don’t know how long. Guards are willing share footage with administrators and police. Not sure about warrant requirements in criminal investigations. My feeling is, if the police asked, they would share without a warrant. But much like Kade and their bike, sometimes the police are indifferent about the problems our guards bring to them. Not sure if the footage is subject to public records request, but arguably, of course it is(?). Typically, we use the footage as evidence after the fact for minor crimes; e.g., “look, we have you on camera right here stealing those CDs.”

whew, that is a lot!

Once, a decision was made to put a camera on an isolated staff area that the public also had access to for the “staff member’s safety” without informing that staff member. This was only staff area under surveillance besides elevators and public entrances. When the staff member found out they were the only staff member under video surveillance they pushed back. Not sure of the details, but there was a resolution that satisfied all parties.

WHAT

Another thing that Kade said that stuck with me, “abuse is guaranteed.” My initial instinct is that I agree, but it raises questions of how much abuse is acceptable? And why is abuse guaranteed? Human nature? Perhaps that is outside the scope of this class? Perhaps not.

Not out of scope. I think the “abuse is guaranteed” line is because of how we’ve seen surveillance capabilities used over and over again in abusive ways – to target marginalized people, to violate 1st and 4th amendment rights, to hack or exploit people – so it IS basically a guarantee at this point. Or it’s at least important to remind ourselves of how often that happens. It’s also a recognition of how much power comes with surveillance capabilities.

If ALA’s Code of Ethics and Bill of the Rights and their interpretations are what constitute “library ethics” then using the cameras to determine what people read / access would be a violation.

Our readings this week referenced a couple of ALA policies that provide more for us to think about in addition to what’s outlined in the Code of Ethics/Bill of Rights:

Questions and answers on privacy and confidentiality: http://www.ala.org/Template.cfm?Section=interpretations&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=15347

Policy statement on library services to the poor: http://www.ala.org/aboutala/offices/extending-our-reach-reducing-homelessness-through-library-engagement-7

@Rebekah I think that would definitely be a positive step for our libraries! One problem we have is that our security guards are the only people in the building who aren’t city employees with city benefits. They’re contracted from an outside company, have terrible schedules (so they’re TIRED), and most don’t qualify for health benefits. (One of our security guards could barely walk because of a knee injury that he couldn’t afford to take care of.) We also have a high turnover rate, because as soon as anyone gets any seniority, they ask to be moved from the library to an easier location. A really professional and well-trained security team would go much further than cameras, I think, but the city would have to decide to really invest in them as professionals. Our library has had a difficult time creating and funding new job positions - the categories and descriptions have stayed the same despite the changing face of libraries!

Hi guys - sorry to be late on starting this assignment! Regarding: “Work with other LFI participants to begin drafting a CCTV policy.” Is this the thread where we’re talking about this? Who wants to work together? Any other public librarians with me? Let’s throw up a shared document!

This is how I see our branch use CCTV too - that and pulling stills of people who are banned to share across branches. That said, other branches in the system have more issues with violence, overdoses and other more serious stuff, so the cameras might be useful (or, for that matter, harmful) in different ways across the system.

I have to verify our policies on how long footage is kept, whether anyone in the organization other than branch staff has access, and what the rules about police are (I believe they need a warrant for video/no warrant for stills but want to check). I do know that the feed is only available on certain computers (none in public areas), and our contacted security guards can’t access the feed without staff help. (I’m not sure this policy makes sense, but our security guard is particularly awesome so it may be better this way for other branches.)

I’m curious about how many of our patrons even know that we have cameras. They’re not hidden, exactly, but I have to wonder who even notices. I do think we have a responsibility to tell them, though I don’t think it’s posted anywhere.

All that said, I don’t know if there are cameras in staff areas but am going to find out.

Right?! Our system also contracts with an outside company for security guards, and many of them are awesome and keep things from becoming problems in the first place - but they’re already not paid nearly what they should be. It’s so frustrating when administrators assume that security guards are just a set of eyes (which, of course, are more easily replaced by cameras) rather than trained professionals who develop positive relationships with patrons and staff.

While Baltimore is pretty camera-heavy, I don’t know how the actual monitoring lines up with the ideal. (And by ideal, I mean the city’s/police department’s/camera company’s ideal.) According to this, the feeds are monitored 365/24/7 by retired police officers (which around here doesn’t exactly inspire confidence if it’s accurate.)(Also, again, how many cameras per officer? Are feeds from some areas of the city tracked more closely than others? The distribution of cameras is already questionable.) I’m curious now to see whether there is data on the feeds actually being useful for preventing crimes or solving cases. I definitely noted in the article about Flock that, as of the time the article was published, arrests had not been made in the two cases cited - they may be helpful, as in this case in Baltimore, but that’s quite the trade-off.

Let’s talk about the policy! I’m a little confused. Are we all to draft one policy or each draft our own with input from others? I’m open to anything, but ready to get rolling on it too!

Hey @Sarah_in_Oregon and @AllyM, I’m a little confused too. Not sure if we’re supposed to form small groups or work as a one large group. But, I’m ready to get started as well (still doing some of the readings though. Shhhh).