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Cities Spend Millions to be Peeping Toms

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Smile. You're on candid cameras.

Wherever you go, whatever you do, there is a good chance a security camera is going to catch you in the act. Surveillance video is everywhere, with public and private eyes keeping tabs on you.

Feel like somebody is watching you? With public and private security cameras, someone probably is.

The Occupy protesters have noticed.

"At Zuccotti Park, there are at least two special cameras trained on the park and apparently recording activity at all times," reads an Oct. 20 letter from the New York Civil Liberties Union to New York Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly, referring to the base camp for the Occupy Wall Street protest. "It appears to us that the department's approach is basically to videotape all Occupy Wall Street activity. This type of surveillance substantially chills protest activity and is unlawful."

A similar complaint had been lodged by the Boston chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. It claims to have mapped out approximately 30 cameras on buildings near their Dewey Square base of operations that could be focused on protesters. It is unclear, however, which are monitored by police and which are used privately for security.

Despite the wider adoption of surveillance cameras since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the U.S. still lags behind the pervasive use of the technology in Europe.

In the U.K. there are an estimated 4 million surveillance cameras in use, roughly one for every 14 citizens. In London, the more than 1 million cameras focused on city streets means the typical person is recorded more than 300 times a day.

Municipalities, often using grant money from the Department of Homeland Security, are starting to catch up to Europe. Chicago, in particular, may be one of the most recorded cities in America.

In February, the ACLU issued a report on Chicago's network of surveillance cameras -- which it calls "an unregulated threat" to privacy -- and proposed guidelines for their use.

Although city officials won't detail the full inventory of its surveillance network, the ACLU and other groups say that street-level count and reviews of budget expenditures indicate that the city has access to 10,000 publicly and privately owned cameras. At least $60 million has been spent on "our nation's largest and most integrated camera network," it claims.

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