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Friday, July 16, 2010


Surveillance cameras sprouting

These days it seems that nobody can escape being monitored by surveillance cameras. These cameras are in banks, convenience stores, busy streets, railway stations and residential areas, and even inside trains and taxis.

The Metropolitan Police Department of Tokyo has set up 160 surveillance cameras in Shibuya, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku's Kabuki-cho and two other districts. The Osaka Prefectural Police has set up 211 cameras.

The MPD started using Japan's first surveillance cameras mounted on a police car on Tuesday. The system consists of a high-resolution and two standard cameras, the latter housed in dome-shaped covers, affixed to a pole that can be extended up to 6.7 meters. A satellite circuit transmits the video image to MPD headquarters. The car also gets images from nine portable cameras within a radius of 150 meters through a wireless LAN.

Shopping area associations, community associations and enterprises also have set up surveillance cameras. There seems to be little public resistance to the use of the devices. Some crime prevention volunteer groups operate cameras set up by the police.

Surveillance cameras can be helpful in criminal investigations. On July 4, images from a surveillance camera near a church in Asahi Ward, Osaka, led the prefectural police to arrest a 29-year-old man on suspicion of having thrown fire extinguishers or rocks through the windows of 72 Protestant churches in Osaka, Hyogo, Kyoto and Shiga prefectures since September 2008.

But a law is needed to govern the installation and operation of surveillance cameras. One problem is that images of law-abiding people are accumulated via the cameras. Technology that matches facial images from cameras with people's faces on file would make it possible to monitor the movements of particular people. The MPD and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government are developing such a capability.

At the very least, the law must state clearly that images should not be used for other purposes than those stipulated by the statute and that the images must be erased after a certain period of time.

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