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OPINION: Of safety and privacy and Doolittle Park

The word quaint might not jump to mind when you’re considering the Wallingford Town Council, but it seems to fit the reservations expressed by some councilors over planting security cameras at Doolittle Park.

It’s a compliment: Quaint as in the definition of “pleasingly or strikingly old-fashioned or unfamiliar.” In this case, it’s in the worry over privacy.

Here’s Democratic Councilor Sam Carmody, as quoted by the R-J at the end of January: "I think the installation of cameras is an unfortunate necessity at this point to keep members of our community safe. I wish we could preserve people's privacy by not having the area monitored in this manner, but there have just been too many dangerous and negative activities that have occurred at the park. I hope the cameras will help deter such activities in the future."

For the unfamiliar, some context should help. Doolittle Park was attacked at the end of October last year and police, as the R-J put it in January, “discovered the playground, as well as a portable restroom and a basketball court had been set ablaze, causing nearly $70,000 in damage.”

Police called it an example of “‘unruly’ behavior by juveniles in downtown Wallingford,” with Police Chief John Ventura describing a “165% increase in unspecified ‘issues with juvenile behavior.’” Four teenagers were charged. Setting up cameras at Doolittle Park is another way of responding.

There’s some concern about Big Brother, a name familiar from George Orwell’s dystopian “1984.” Here’s Republican Councilor Christina Tatta, just recently: “I hate that we have to do this but I understand this park has been a problem for the safety of the neighbors. They’re all very close to that park so we need to do this, but I hate that we have to put cameras in our public parks. I don’t like the idea of Big Brother always watching but I do understand where we are.”

Concerns over Big Brother are valid, but we also live in a world of little brothers, conveyed by our smartphone cameras. Today’s world is a world obsessed with watching itself.

Surrendering privacy is a routine part of using an app, which typically wants to know your location, your identity, if it can send you notifications. It’s hungry for information about you — ostensibly in order to serve you better. If you have sleep apnea, for example, you can use an app that monitors snoring. That means it’s listening to you, monitoring you, all night, perhaps every night.

What’s important is that it’s your choice. You don’t have to use apps if you don’t want to. You don’t even have to have a smartphone.

In the case of Doolittle Park, elected leaders have chosen to download the app, so to speak. They’ve decided it’s in the best interest of the public to keep watch on the park. That they express reservations about the cost to privacy indicates an understanding that might seem old fashioned but is worth hanging on to.

It won’t stop at Doolittle Park. Republican Councilor Craig Fishbein envisioned that “sometime in the near future we are going to be talking about cameras at many of our parks.”

“That’s a very strong possibility,” said Chief Ventura.

Here’s our brave new world.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at jkurz@record-journal.com.





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