A new $2-million citizen surveillance system installed along the Tex-Mex border has yielded just one crime bust after about six weeks in operation — three suspects who were allegedly caught hauling 540 pounds of marijuana over the border after someone spotted them online, according to the Houston Chronicle.
The expensive system of 13 closed-circuit cameras placed along the Rio Grande — which is billed as a “virtual stakeout” for “virtual deputies” — involves images from the cameras that are streamed online. Members of the public are invited to serve as “virtual deputies” by watching the images and reporting any suspicious activity they see.
Although authorities wouldn’t provide any details about the arrest, saying they didn’t want to give information that would reveal the location of the surveillance camera that spotted the suspects, it’s presumed that the arrest was the result of a citizen report.
The project is the result of a partnership between the Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition and BlueServo, a social networking site that is hosting the video. The Sheriffs Coalition insists that the system is focused on catching criminals, not illegal immigrants, although the sheriffs office may contact the U.S. Border Control to convey reports of suspicious immigrant activity as well. The executive director of the Sheriff’s Coalition would not say how many referrals had been passed to Border Patrol authorities since the program was launched in November.
The exact location of the cameras is not disclosed, but according to a press release about the project, “a significant number of Texas landowners” requested that the cameras be placed on their property.
More than 21,000 people from several states, including as far away as Ohio, have signed up to be virtual deputies so far. BlueServo claims its web site has received more than 5 million hits, resulting in about 1,000 e-mail reports of suspicious activity. The average camera watcher spends about eight minutes on the site examining video.
What do virtual deputies get in return for their efforts?
Aside from the satisfaction of knowing they’ve done their part to combat crime, they get the opportunity to become targeted consumers.
The web site notes that “in the future, BlueServo anticipates that high volume of traffic to its website will generate advertising revenue to defray the operations cost of the Virtual Community Watch to the Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition.” To sign up to become a virtual deputy, the site requires you to provide your e-mail address, age, gender, and postal code.
According to the site, “virtual deputies” can also connect their own home and neighborhood surveillance cameras to BlueServo to create a virtual neighborhood watch. Presumably this increases opportunities for targeted marketing as well.
– Article from Wired.