Big Brother is creeping into our lives, inch by inch, camera by camera, tower by tower. Recent posts on our blog have described plans by the City of San Diego to install surveillance cameras in and around Mission Bay, including one on the OB Pier, and that the San Diego Police Department dragged out their controversial mobile watch tower for this year’s first Floatopia.
Surveillance cameras, police towers … Big Brother is definitely creeping in … do you remember the origins of Big Brother? He is a fictional character in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the dictator with seemingly absolute control in Oceania, a society that is a totalitarian state.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the “Party” – the ruling elite – have total power over their citizens. In his book, Orwell describes this nightmarish society where everyone is under complete surveillance by governmental authorities. This is accomplished mainly by telescreens – a two-way TV -, but also by cameras, and spies. The phrase “Big Brother is watching you” was constantly thrown at the inhabitants to remind them of their predicament.
Since the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the term “Big Brother” has become common-place in our language, and is used to describe any overly-controlling authority figure or attempts by government to increase surveillance or abuse of civil liberties by government power.
Police Got Their Observation Tower
Over a year ago, the Union-Tribune reported that the San Diego Police Department, after some trial runs, was about to purchase a $119,000 mobile observation tower to assist them in law enforcement and crowd control.
The two-story “… mobile observation tower … is similar to a cherry-picker lift with an enclosed pod at the top. The platform gives police a 360-degree vantage point through heavily tinted windows and allows them to direct responding officers on the ground below.
… the pod is filled with a range of high-tech tools to help officers gather intelligence, monitor crowds and prevent crime. … The funds will come from a Homeland Security grant ….The cameras can zoom in up to three-quarters of a mile away and can be operated remotely.
The watch tower – in trial runs – was used several places, including:
- at the beach (Mission Beach?) over Labor Day 2009,
- along Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach for New Year’s Eve 2009
- at University Towne Center during the holidays and
- at Qualcomm Stadium during December 2008’s Chargers/Raiders game
- At Floatopia, as we mentioned, March 2010;
- El Cajon police used one at the Westfield Parkway Plaza shopping mall, Christmas 2009 and 2010, among other places, to monitor crowds. They used Homeland Security funds to purchase their tower – which is very similar to the SDPD’s – in 2006 for $90,000.
- The Sheriff’s Department bought a tower about two years ago and has used it at several community events, including at the county fair in Del Mar.
The U-T reported on how police departments just love the watch tower:
“It has assisted us in making arrests and has certainly been a huge deterrent,” said SDpolice Capt. Shelley Zimmerman, who has used the tower throughout the Northern Division as a test run.
“It’s been extremely useful,” said sheriff’s Lt. Phil Brust. “We’ve been able to view vehicle burglaries and been able to view fights that have occurred in different areas.”
Brust said the tower, which is equipped with sensitive cameras, has also come in handy for intelligence-gathering.
This blog also reported that the towers manufacturer, ICx Technologies, of Arlington, VA, called their the tower “SkyWatch Frontier”, which “was originally designed to meet the needs of forward deployed military forces.”
The mobility and functionality of the Frontier make it ideal for use at impermanent bases or as part of security operations around critical infrastructure facilities.
Over a year ago, in our report, we quoted from the manufacturer’s online brochure, which definitely emphasized the military use of the facility. Then the brochure added that “due to varying levels of enemy activities” the Frontier comes in 3 different types of armor and gun ports.
The then online brochure stated:
“The Skywatch Frontier was developed with the intention of being deployed with our military forces and as such provides optional ballistic capabilities for those areas in which enemy activity is at its highest. Due to this inherent design, the Frontier can meet the rigors of expeditionary missions not only for the military, but also for border patrol and high level security arenas.”
The Skywatch Frontier can be loaded with a significant array of surveillance and monitoring equipment as well as high level communications capabilities.
The high profile also acts as a significant deterrent to enemy forces.
Today, the emphasis is on law enforcement. The new “SkyWatch” is described at ICx Technologies’ website:
Vantage point is everything when it comes to surveillance. SkyWatch™ units provide a high level platform for an array of surveillance options. Every tower includes the basics for the comfort and safety of the officer inside through adjustable heat and air conditioning, tinted sliding glass windows and comfortable seating. And no matter the application, only one person is required to set up and deploy a unit.
The SkyWatch can easily be relocated and is rugged enough to handle even the most primitive off-road conditions. And all models are adaptable for cameras, radios, public address systems and other equipment integration.
Now, one officer can cover an area previously requiring three or more personnel.
Some day, the police observation tower will come to Ocean Beach, perhaps this summer. (Why hasn’t it already?)
A couple of weeks ago, our blogger PSD posted a review of the City of San Diego’s plans for 16 surveillance cameras – primarily in Mission Bay – and one on the OB Pier.
PSD listed the “nuts and bolts”:
- San Diego is to install up to 16 surveillance cameras, “to monitor vessel, vehicle, and pedestrian traffic in and around Mission Bay and the Mission Bay Channel entrance.”(My emphasis.)
- Including the OB Pier (exact location unknown) the cameras will be set up around Mission Bay – See Map.
- These cameras will have 360 degree rotation, high quality zoom capabilities for objects up to 300 yards, night vision and infrared to shoot 24/7, seven day storage, able to withstand extreme weather conditions and be enshrouded in bullet-resistant domes.
- Section E(4) of the RfP contract states: “The network of cameras shall be utilized for law enforcement purposes by local, state, and federal agencies.”
- Funding for these cameras is coming from the Urban Area Security Initiative, drafted in the wake of 9/11 and intended to provide money for anti-terrorism efforts to areas where the perceived threat of attacks was highest.
Imagine, a government police surveillance camera on the OB Pier. Might as well call it the Oceania Beach Pier, in honor of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Surveillance Cameras Are Everywhere
Heck, maybe it’s time for OB to catch up with the rest of society, and join the communities under the watchful lens of law enforcement. Surveillance cameras are everywhere.
Now, there’s two types of these cameras: private cameras and government ones. For instance, there’s a private video camera on top of the OB Hotel run by the OBMA. It already takes in views of the Pier and whatever else is going on in and around the foot of Newport Avenue. And anybody can view it.
I’m most concerned, however, with government surveillance cameras in public space or spheres.
Yet, if cameras installed by the “private sphere” are used by government and/or law enforcement, then they are no longer “private.” And still, surveillance cameras in the private sphere can be just as “effective” as their “public” counter-parts.
Think of all the places you’ve seen surveillance cameras … maybe not the 360 degree types, the bullet-proof ones, but watching lens at any rate. Many private facilities and buildings have these cameras outside. But they are inside many places as well.
You see them in banks, in malls, sports stadiums, in elevators, office buildings, some restaurants, in casinos, convenience stores, ATMs, and in fact many workplaces have them, and many housing projects have them externally.
Now, think of all the surveillance cameras you’ve seen or know of installed and run by various elements of the government: traffic signals, airports, freeways, the border fence, and some parks and beaches, some cities have them on their buses, trolleys, subway stations, and public schools, government office buildings, courthouses … the list goes on and on.
While you mull this over, I’ll work on Part Two … of the Creep of Big Brother.