Government Surveillance, Good and Bad

There were two stories I came across today about government surveillance. The first concerns inspections of the county’s food establishments and the second, a proposed real-time crime surveillance center.

Food Surveillance

The new county health department is inspecting all restaurants except the seven municipalities that sued to block it. The results in all but these seven are documented in an easily searchable database. You can search by town as well, looking up all in Swarthmore or Media for example. Here’s the results of one inspection last September for 320 Market on State Street in Media,

Observed Hand washing sink in bar area with dishes and utensils, indicating uses other than handwashing. Handwash sinks must be accessible at all times. Corrective Action: Person in charge removed dishes from handwash sink during inspection. 6-301.14 (C) A sign or poster that notifies food employees to wash their hands is not provided at all handwashing sinks used by food employees. Provide a clearly visible handwashing sign at each hand sink.

Chicken Cutlets and Cole Slaw in cold hold unit was held at 50 degrees rather than 41 degrees or below as required.

Ambient air/water thermometer in cold hold display case is not accurate. Must be accurate to +/-3 in the intended range of use.

Food storage containers are not labeled. Identify food storage containers with common name of the food.

Observed Mouse droppings throughout food facility.

You can easily look up any restaurant you want. Here’s a link to La Cannelle’s latest inspection. It’s a simple and effective system. Well done to the county. The municipalities that have sued and aren’t listed are: Springfield, Ridley, Aston, Upper Chichester, Darby Township, Tinicum and Marple. Locations in those municipalities won’t be listed, so be careful where you eat there. (update – a reader notes these municipalities are responsible for conducting their own inspections, they just aren’t uploaded to this database)

Real Time Cameras

According to this story from WHYY, the county is working with a company called Fusus to install cameras in “high-crime areas” for real-time surveillance. The article suggests that police could access video from these cameras on their phone. The article gives no indication of any oversight or how abuse of this technology would be handled. The article notes the DA’s office declined WHYY’s request for an interview.

But what’s particularly dystopian is what follows,

But Delaware County’s law enforcement community have even loftier goals. Their vision is to eventually ask the broader public to share their own private security camera feeds to law enforcement’s opt-in cloud system.

To date, there haven’t been any county-wide public input meetings to discuss these plans nor is there much available information on the existing infrastructure.

Democratic District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer briefly mentioned the undertaking to Delaware County Council at a recent public meeting, while advocating for the government body to accept a $1 million grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. The bulk of the money will be used to fund even more street poles, Fusus cameras, and software.

“We are working right now with a platform that will go up with a website that will allow everyone in the community, starting in Chester, and then eventually across the county, who has a camera, security camera, who wants to share it with law enforcement, to use this platform, to share it with us in real-time,” Stollsteimer said.

My neighbor across the street has a ring camera, as many in Garden City do. If they signed up for this program, the county would have real-time access to footage of my house 24/7. Everything I do in my yard, and anything you can see in the windows could be available to the police on their phones in real time. What’s to stop someone from aiming a camera at a neighbor they don’t like and listing it?

If broad-based surveillance doesn’t give you concerns, then you haven’t been paying attention. Such systems are inevitably abused for personal surveillance by individual officers or their use shifts from surveilling violent crime to being used for non-violent (often drug) offenses. In other states, such real time monitoring systems can be used to police abortion restrictions, drag shows, or whatever the latest right-wing obsession is. Even if you trust the district attorney’s office, do you trust all the other authorities they might share this information with? Also of note, most of the places the county is installing cameras are in minority communities, inevitably leading to further racial inequities in our judicial system.

WHYY did an excellent job on this story, I encourage you to read the whole piece.

Categories: DelCoCouncil, Government