The Examiner U-46 News Feed
At issue in Dist. U-46: Privacy versus security
By Seth Hancock
Is it all for safety and security or a possible Orwellian nightmare coming true?
That’s a philosophical question some members of the public may be considering as the Board of Education in School District U-46 was presented with a proposed Inter-Governmental Agreement with the City of Elgin on Monday, Oct. 17. A vote is planned for Monday, Nov. 7.
The agreement would allow the Elgin Police Department to access “the view of cameras” that are placed at U-46 buildings. John Heiderscheidt, director of school safety and culture, said there are entry-point cameras at each school and interior cameras in middle and high schools, and this agreement came with shootings at “Sandy Hook, Columbine and Orlando on our minds.”
Although the stated purpose of the Video Integration Agreement is to “bring us to a place where if we had to have a situation where emergency, police department, was called to respond to a situation like that, they would have the tactical information that they need” according to Heiderscheidt, the agreement would give the Elgin police the capability to constantly spy on anyone in front of a U-46 camera.
The Elgin PD would be “linked” to the U-46 system according to Heiderscheidt who said the PD has “state of the art” facilities and that the “toys and tools that they have at the police department is really exceptional.”
Heiderscheidt said there are some parameters set in the agreement for when the police can view the cameras.
From the agreement, the reasons to view include: “The school calls for police assistance,” “the police receive a call from any person regarding suspected criminal activity on or around the school,” “an alarm is activated at the school,” “a human or natural hazard is reported on or around school property” and “to facilitate a tactical advantage view due to police response to a potentially dangerous situation.”
“The record is our record, it’s a U-46 record” said Heiderscheidt but it is always connected for “real-time” viewing. He said the agreement is for one year, and it will be reviewed.
Board member Phil Costello asked: “This seems like a great agreement. Do you see any downsides to this? I can’t see any, do you see any?”
Heiderscheidt said “when people step outside of the agreement and the intended use” but “I don’t see an outcome, outside this, where it would be bad.”
Costello asked if there was any cost to the district which Heiderscheidt said the city will pay the $7,000 for connection and “they would burden the expense if there were a disconnect.”
Apparently some members of the public have given up their privacy rights already as Heiderscheidt said “the city of Elgin has a program where a resident could link into their Real Time Information Center with cameras on their home,” and for schools “this is the next step.”
There may be a push to expand this capability as board member Sue Kerr asked if other police departments in the district, like Bartlett or Streamwood, would possibly sign a similar agreement.
“I foresee a yes, but they don’t have the capability at this time. I believe that will grow,” Heiderscheidt said.
“An agreement like this is intended to be for us so we can respond and be agile if the situation changes in the United States of America with any types of situations that could happen,” Heiderscheidt added. “So we’re thinking 30 years, 50 years from now. We’re not thinking just the here and now.”
Board member Jeanette Ward questioned aspects of the agreement such as Elgin PD not being allowed to “create or retain” video records unless it’s signed off by the district.
“Under what circumstances would we consent to retention of recordings?” Ward asked.
Heiderscheidt said if there was a Freedom of Information Act or referral request it would give video records to the police. He added that “we have records. We record our cameras for 30 days.”
Ward asked: “So what stops them from viewing it constantly other than they sign this agreement? Are there any controls in place that would stop them from just watching constantly?”
There are no safeguards other than the agreement as Heiderscheidt said: “They would be facing their own personnel issues and their own boredom, probably, with watching kind of what’s going on in schools.”
Ward asked where internal cameras are placed at the middle and high schools which Heiderscheidt said they range from hallways to outside of bathrooms and in cafeterias, and they are “used mostly for forensic purposes.”
Both Heiderscheidt and U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said that “we have a lot of cameras.”
Why is it important to take seriously the concerns of such agreements? A memo from Heiderscheidt to Sanders, which was sent to the board, shows that the district understands this is a violation of “privacy rights” as it calls it a balance between “privacy rights” and “the potential need of police tactical response concerns to enhance safety with cameras.”
To privacy advocates, such as National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden, the loss of privacy has widespread effects far beyond privacy.
In a speech given earlier this year, Snowden said: “Privacy is the fountainhead of all other rights. Freedom of speech doesn’t have a lot of meaning if you can’t have a quiet space… to decide what it is that you actually want to say. Freedom of religion doesn’t mean that if you can’t figure out what you actually believe without being influenced by the criticisms and sort of outside direction and peer pressure of others. And it goes on and on and on, but privacy is baked into our language, our core concepts of government and self in every way. Without privacy, you won’t have anything for yourself.”
As this inter-governmental agreement is considered with the recognition that there are no safeguards against abuse other than the agreement, how has abuse been handled at the highest levels of government.