Public Comment

Who Watches the Watchmen? UC Berkeley Launches Video Surveillance

By Nathan Pitts
Tuesday February 22, 2011 - 12:36:00 PM

UC Berkeley has unceremoniously announced its intention to wire "properties owned, leased, or controlled by the campus" for video surveillance. The campus policies website ( has been updated with the pdf file titled "Video Security Applications". As listed on the document, the responsible executive behind the surveillance plan is the [now former]vice-chancellor. Oddly though, he left his name off the form. The man who wants to scrutinize everybody, didn't want his name on a publicly scrutinized document. For the record his name is Nathan Bromstrom. If people want to take video footage of him (fair is fair), he lives on Canyon Road (thanks Google). 

The responsible office is of course the UCB police department. Although Mitch Celaya uses the word "responsible" in a funny way, because he didn't want to list his name on the document either. The blame is delegated to the Administrative Captain, and she chose to leave her name out too. Her name is Margo Bennett. Margo is also the name of the lead female character in The Shadow. With the new camera system, Margo and Mitch are going to find out what evil lurks in the hearts of men, I suppose. 

The cost of the system is not discussed in any way in the policy. The instillation has been approved, but there is no public documentation as of yet to the specifics of the system. The cameras are the most basic cost, then there is the added costs of the IP (internet protocol) addresses for the cameras. There will be camera control operators; tech support as well as people paid to sit and monitor the system (ie: watch the footage). Every piece of digital video will be stored for future reference, from a period of 21 days up to a whole year. Storing the accumulated visual/audio data from an entire campus for those periods will require a large and costly server system. All in all, the proposal is an extremely expensive endeavor; people should be concerned about this expenditure. They should also wonder where the money is coming from in the first place, as the university keeps claiming it's broke. 

Since the plan is for all UC owned properties, one should expect People's Park to be one of the first places the cameras appear. The cameras will capture every nugget of weed that gets smoked or traded. People rioted over a volleyball court: Cameras will create a far bigger stir. As the UC-PD continues to take large stances against civil liberties, the city of Berkeley should reconsider having shared patrols and operations. Or they could be dragged into quagmire. 

Privacy issues aside, the cameras represent the further privatization of the campus. They send a signal that the non-affiliated, general public is unwelcome from the campus. They are a symbol of intimidation particularly towards towards those who would wish to be on campus for political reasons.