Editorial: Don't let Green Light become Big Brother
The use of Project Green Light surveillance cameras in Detroit has been popular with business and residential property owners, who feel participation in the program makes their establishments safer.
Mayor Mike Duggan now wants to expand the project to traffic cameras, allowing the police to track Detroiters throughout the city, without their permission and without probable cause or a warrant.
It sounds a little too much like Big Brother to us.
Duggan announced that the private surveillance cameras will be integrated with more than 1,000 traffic cameras, feeding live video to the Detroit Police Department's Real Time Crime Center. The more than 500 businesses who currently belong to Project Green Light pay a fee for interior and exterior video cameras that also transmit video to the Crime Center.
ACLU attorney Eric C. Williams says Project Green Light violates the constitutional right to privacy by allowing police to surveil citizens without a search warrant.
Generally, police can observe anyone in public. But if they want to systematically track someone, they need probable cause and the approval of a judge.
Police need warrants to put GPS trackers on cars, for example. But under this new effort, they’ll be able to track vehicles throughout the city via the traffic cameras without asking permission from the court.
Detroit Police spent $1 million to add facial recognition software to their surveillance system. If they decide someone is a person of interest, they can use that software to track them with ease.
And because the recordings and software are shared with the Michigan State Police and federal law enforcement, government has unprecedented access to the movements and actions of citizens. While police say the video will only be used to prevent crimes, the opportunity for abuse is vast.
The city says that crime near Project Green Light businesses has gone down 23 percent since the program began in 2016. But that drop could be attributed to police visiting Project Green Light businesses with greater frequency, and not just to the cameras.
Small business owners who don’t — or can't afford to — participate in Project Green Light have claimed that participating business have better 911 response times. The police say otherwise.
Last year, the ACLU’s Williams used a Freedom of Information Act request to discover that two years after the project began, the police still had no protocol as to how decisions were made to start tracking people who show up on the Green Light cameras.
"There is no oversight, absolutely no transparency," Williams says.
Though the intent is to make the city safer, a constantly surveilled community is also one that has fewer civil liberties.
This is a proposal that merits much more discussion. The zeal to create a more secure city should not require creating an Orwellian state.