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Police credit the network for thousands of arrests in recent years. Cameras have recorded drug deals, bike thefts and other crimes; footage from a camera on a city bus helped convince a suspected gang member to plead guilty to shooting a high school student in 2007.
After the Boston Marathon bombings, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was quick to tout Chicago’s surveillance cameras.
"They serve an important function for the city in providing the type of safety on a day-to-day basis — not just for big events like a marathon," he said.
Police say they get few complaints about the network. And even the local branch of the ACLU says Chicagoans generally seem at peace with the system — except when they get a traffic ticket for a camera-recorded infraction.
Police have not always had their way in expanding surveillance networks. In Washington, D.C, the city council balked at appropriating money in 2008 for a network of more than 5,000 cameras after privacy and civil liberties groups campaigned against the plan.
Attorney Hanni Fakhoury of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for online free speech and privacy rights, said the data amassed by police from surveillance cameras and personal devices has enormous crime-solving potential. But he said there were worrisome questions about how long such data would be stored, and who could access it.
"There seems to be a suggestion, that just by walking in a city square, you give up your rights to be anonymous," he said. "We could stop all sorts of crime ahead of time if we monitored everything everywhere. But do we want to live in that kind of society?"
Associated Press writer Paisley Dodds in London contributed to this report.
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