Surveillance Takes A Village
The 3.3-square-mile North Shore enclave of Kings Point is launching a far-reaching surveillance network that can compare the license plate of every car going into the village against federal and state crime databases such as most-wanted lists, stolen vehicle alerts and suspected terrorist files.
When the project is completed, 44 cameras will monitor 19 entrances into the village in what may be one of the most extensive municipal tracking programs anywhere.
The number of cameras equals about one for every 120 people in the village of 5,305 people. Kings Point, a community of million-dollar homes, sits on the Great Neck peninsula, surrounded on three sides by water.
It's not as if Kings Point suffers from a crime wave, though it did have 19 property crimes and one violent crime in 2010. You just can't be too careful.
Mayor Michael Kalnick said the tracking program is necessary to protect residents, but privacy and civil rights groups consider it an overreaching intrusion.
"Crime will always be out there," Kalnick said. "Do you wait for it to happen? I think no."
Fortunately, Kalnick has yet to consider enacting a law requiring every non-resident to enter the village to submit to a cavity search. After all, you don't want to wait for crime to happen, do you?
The problem, of course, is that there's nothing facially wrong with the use of cameras to monitor every car that drives into the village. License plates are public, and there is no right to drive without government taking note of them. Indeed, the NYSCLU doesn't like the initiative, but the worst they can say about it is that it seems like overkill.
"When we talk about installing an intense surveillance system like these, there needs to be intense public debate," said Samantha Fredrickson, the Nassau County chapter director of New York Civil Liberties Union. "It's just another example of the government watching and keeping track of what we do in our personal time. It just doesn't seem necessary."
It's not necessary. It's a choice made by a village that can afford to make such choices. At the same time, it reflects the potential of technological achievement and overarching desire for security. For the moment, Kings Point is an early adopter. Others will follow. It certainly gives new meaning to Allen Funt's old tag line, "smile, you're on Candid Camera," but it's not likely to be nearly as funny.