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Surveillance Won’t Keep Us Safe

A Vancouver City Councilor is introducing a motion this week calling for expanding video surveillance in public spaces.

The motion would have city staff work alongside the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) to determine where CCTV cameras could be installed to deter crime and capture evidence for investigations. It also asks staff and the VPD “educate property owners, businesses and residents about the value of using CCTV cameras.” The motion celebrates and promotes the use of facial recognition technology.

WTC has worked with over 10 local civil society organizations on a comprehensive letter to council in opposition to this dangerous motion. You can read the letter here.

WTC is strongly opposed to this motion because:

CCTV does not increase public safety

This Motion lacks any grounding in evidence-based practices regarding the use of surveillance as a deterrent to crime or investigatory tool for policing. In fact, the evidence from cities around the world is consistent - more CCTV has no measurable impact on violence crime.

CCTV and facial recognition technology exacerbates existing inequalities

This technology will increase criminalization and incarceration of people who are unsheltered, whilst addressing none of the causes of homelessness, including poverty, lack of affordable housing, and mental health supports. Research also shows that sex workers specifically are less safe when surveillance increases because they will go to great lengths to ensure their customers are not criminalized, which means moving to more isolated, remote areas to work.

CCTV is racially biased

Widespread research highlights that facial recognition software is racially biased:

  • Research in the US in 2018 showed that facial analysis algorithms misclassified Black women nearly 35 percent of the time.

  • Research by the US Federal Government on bias in facial recognition found that Asian and African American people were up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified than white men.

  • Research in the UK showed that CCTV operators selectively target those social groups they believe to be perpetrators of crime. This leads to Black people being “one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half times more likely to be surveilled”.

It will make equity-deserving genders feel less safe

Increasing CCTV is another expensive and dangerous tool to further criminalize women who are living in the DTES, especially racialized women and girls, drug users, and sex workers. Research from Australia shows that the presence of CCTV makes women feel less safe in public spaces as it is viewed as an indicator that the space is unsafe. This results in women spending less time in public spaces.

Cities across the US are banning facial recognition technology

Cities in the US are banning facial recognition technology by police, government agencies and even private companies. City councils in Portland, San Francisco, Boston, Vermont, Oakland, Minneapolis stating concerns of bias in facial recognition, privacy and the impact on civic life.

We have solutions to increase community safety that don’t compromise the privacy and wellbeing of those who already face discrimination

The public funds that would be required to install this system, which has absolutely no evidence to increase public safety or reduce violence crime, could be spent on interventions that do increase community safety - including front line mental health workers, better city planning, community-led crisis intervention, harm-reduction, affordable transit, social programs, and affordable housing.

Contact your City Council and Mayor by sending a note opposing this Motion here.

To learn more about what key priorities are for equity-seeking genders in Vancouver, keep connected with our Hot Pink Paper Campaign (HPPC). We will be sharing what we heard the most from our community members on what makes them feel safe, as well as related policy considerations for the next city council to implement. Learn more here.

If you’d like to tell us about your key priorities before the next city election, complete our HPPC survey here.


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