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Quick Hits: The Cost of Doing Surveillance

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Brief scrutiny of today's headlines

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This may be one of the daffiest ideas in creation: Sponsorships for police surveillance cameras.

The spy cameras raise basic questions about privacy and government snooping that have yet to be resolved. In the meantime, it's hard to imagine a company slapping its logo on a police camera right next to the flashing light that reminds citizens they're being watched.

But that's exactly what police in Flint, Michigan have in mind.

For $30,000, you can sponsor a police surveillance camera and have your name on it. Who exactly will sponsors reach? Maybe drug dealers, hookers, carjackers, thieves – not exactly the demographic for, say, Barnes & Noble (BKS) or Home Depot (HD).

Google (GOOG) Earth raises privacy concerns with its plan to photograph the front doors of individual houses. This is bound to inspire some half-smart burglar, kidnapper or murderer to use the service to commit a crime, creating a tabloid sensation. But that's innocent compared with the continuing controversy surrounding police surveillance cameras and its echoes of George Orwell's 1984.

Flint cops say they're seeking sponsors to offset the cost of buying and operating the cameras. That's reasonable, but has anyone assessed their effectiveness? Do cameras in public places deter crime or help cops catch bad guys after a crime has occurred? Are cameras helpful for nailing anything more complicated than a car blasting through a red light?

Someone is bound to say the thing to do is just sell city hall to raise money for the silly cameras.

And you can bet that wags will respond that some enterprising soul has already bought it.
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