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Frown! You're on security cameras

Rise in surveillance sparks privacy debate

WASHINGTON -- It's there when you ride an elevator and make a purchase in a store. There's no escaping it in a museum. Look up at the stoplight and a camera may be watching you.

Being lens-shy won't cut it in today's camera-crazed world. Chances are, during a good part of your day, there's a camera nudging into your private space.

There's no doubt surveillance cameras can aid police and protect property. Videos showing crimes are played routinely on news programs to help catch perpetrators.

But the surveillance also can make people feel violated and uneasy. The cameras' broad sweep makes no distinction between revelers at a parade and wrongdoers at a riot. And they never blink.

''I don't like to be watched," said K. Ann Largie, 29, of Laurel, Md. ''It makes me feel uncomfortable."

Nikki Barnett, 31, of Burtonsville, Md., stopped showcasing her ''happy dance" in elevators after learning many of them are monitored by cameras. ''I stopped doing silly things," she said. ''I don't want to portray myself in a certain light."

Use of closed-circuit cameras is spreading in cities, a trend hastened by concerns about terrorist attacks but also because of other reasons, including the mere availability of the technology.

''If I'm mugged at an ATM, I'm glad the bank has cameras so the person can be tracked down," said Justine Stevens, 32, of Arlington, Va. ''But cameras in elevators monitoring behavior seems weird."

Indeed, for every videotaped image of a crime that leads to an arrest there are dozens of perfectly innocent moments captured.

''Cameras used for specific suspects and at specific times, that's good law enforcement," said Peter Swire, professor of law at Ohio State University. ''But I don't want it part of my permanent record every time I scratch myself on a public street."

In Nashville, a middle school installed cameras that parents, in a $4.2 million lawsuit, said captured their children in various stages of locker-room undress. School officials say the cameras were put up in plain view to watch an outside door and hallway.

Perhaps nowhere are cameras more ubiquitous than in the nation's capital: at federal buildings, parks, and traffic lights.

Some are discreetly placed in elevator ceilings and lampposts. Others are more obvious, such as one fixed near an American flag adorning the Justice Department.

Some closed-circuit cameras run around-the-clock. Others come on for specific events. In Washington, 14 police cameras roll during parades, demonstrations, and when the city goes on high alert. They are turned on a half-dozen or so times a year, and the Police Department publicizes it.

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