Police in Louisiana are urging residents to add surveillance camera security systems to their homes and then to hand over control of those systems to law enforcement, an effort they claim will help make neighborhoods safer.
Part of a sprawling surveillance strategy dubbed “Project NOLA,” citizens’ security cameras would be integrated with footage shot from other law enforcement cameras already installed around the St. Bernard Parish area near New Orleans, and would give the sheriff’s department the ability to tap into those cameras at a moment’s notice.
“All you have to do is, you can go to a map and click on an icon for that camera in that area and pull up that camera and it’ll give us a live feed from that area,” St. Bernard Sheriff Jimm Pohlmann told CBS affiliate WAFB, adding that access to cameras on private property would eliminate the need for police to visit homes in person. “I think the more cameras out there, the more successful the program will be.”
Started by former New Orleans police officer Bryan Lagarde, who now owns a digital surveillance wholesale company, Project NOLA is reportedly “the largest networked HD city-wide crime camera system in America,” according to their website, and currently has access to more than 1,000 cameras around New Orleans.
A $10 monthly fee is required for residents interested in granting police access to their existing home camera systems, but those who don’t yet have cameras can purchase entire kits from the officer’s business for $295. For another $150, you can also get those cameras professionally installed.
“This is great for NOPD,” writes Jules Bentley for AntiGravity Magazine, “firstly because they don’t have to pay for any of this—the costs are borne by the home or business owner and the increasingly grant-funded Project NOLA nonprofit—and secondly because private cameras can do things the government’s not allowed to.” Like shirk pesky privacy or constitutional issues.
A network consultant also told Bentley that increasing the number of surveillance devices could compromise NOLA’s intended mission.
“With increasing transmission and storage of data come increasing risks to the security and soundness of the data and the network on which it travels… The larger and more complex a storage and transmission service is, the more points of vulnerability are multiplied—as well as the cost and personnel needs,” the consultant said.
When asked if people’s home cameras could also be vulnerable to hacking, the consultant told Bentley, “That’s not a subject I’m comfortable getting specific about… Let’s just say any system is only as smart as its administrators. I’d say the intended functionality, Bryan [Lagarde] surrounded by monitors like Batman in The Dark Knight, is already weird enough.”
There’s also the fact that footage shot by homeowners’ cameras would be subject to Lagarde’s discretion. “Legally binding assurances of due process, security, and accountability: Project NOLA has none of these in place,” writes Bentley. “All the data from all the Project NOLA cameras and all decisions about who sees what rest entirely in the hands of Lagarde.”
One resident told WAFB he sees how the cameras could help police “keep law and order,” but he also raised concerns over the Big Brother-style intrusion and questioned whether police could possibly misuse their new powers.
“I’m all for it if it’s all for the good, but things do get abused,” said Mereaux resident Christian Delosryes.
Sheriff Pohlmann pledged, however, that police would never look at footage unless they needed to.
“We’re not gonna sit there and monitor it unless something happens in that area or we have reports of suspicious activity going on in that area,” Sheriff Pohlmann said.
Indeed, a surveillance camera system in the hands of a former police officer who operates with minimal accountability and who reports directly to law enforcement agencies should give New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish residents cause for concern.