Video surveillance got a high-profile boost after British investigators nabbed suspects in the London bombings. Germany, too, will expand the measure in train stations. But some are warning not to go too far.
How much security is too much?
Germany's train stations are on their way to becoming among the most guarded public places in the country. Interior Minister Otto Schily announced on Monday that he planned to increase the amount of camera surveillance of the country's train stations as well as the number of security personnel patrolling the platforms.
The measure is not a reaction to the deadly London bombings of July 7, but part of a long-term strategy, said Schily in making the announcement. A major component of the new strategy is a new security center, where eight officers work together with German Rail (Deutsche Bahn) security officers.
"The security of railway passengers is a high priority, especially considering the upcoming soccer world championships in Germany," said Schily.
In the weeks since bombings in the London underground killed 52 commuters, several European capitals have promised more surveillance of the public sphere in an effort to snuff out criminal and terrorist activity. Spurred on by the success British investigators experienced in tracking down bombing suspects on the Underground's closed circuit television system, cities like Moscow and Rome are vowing to improve the security of their citizens by increasing the number and quality of surveillance cameras in their transit stations.
Video surveillance proved effective in catching suspects in the London bombings
Balancing security and liberty
Plans in Germany to do the same are being welcomed by police organizations as well as data protectionists -- to a point.
"Especially in this age of terrorism, the proportionality of the measures need to be considered," said Peter Schaar, Germany's commissioner for data protection. "It's the goal of terrorism to change society, and attack democratic institutions."
Schaar said he has nothing against Schily's plans, provided they continue the system agreed upon by both police and data protectionists. Typically, footage collected by cameras in transit stations is held for 48 hours and then erased. That is usually long enough to make a dent in criminal statistics.
In 2004, 703 crimes were caught on camera, 546 suspects investigated and 411 crimes solved. In 772 cases, police were able to get involved before a crime was committed, according to the interior minister.
Selective video surveillance proposed
Police organizations, like the German Association of Criminal Investigators, argue that video surveillance should be expanded selectively. Spokesman Bernd Carstensen said that police knowledge and criminal statistics should be used to determine where cameras can be useful.
"We support the expansion … but not everywhere," said Carstensen. "The next step needs to be to have actual police officers watching the footage these cameras provide and allow them to act when a crime is being committed."
Green Party members on Tuesday warned not to sacrifice civil liberties for security. Silke Stokar, the domestic affairs spokesman for the Green's parliamentary faction, criticized secret video surveillance and called for more transparency.
Schaar: Cameras don't catch all
Though Schaar (photo) does not take issue with Schily's video surveillance plans, he did think stepping up the number of security personnel would be more effective.
"We don't want people to get the illusion that video surveillance takes care of everything," said Schaar. "Even if an area is watched by video doesn't mean that crimes aren't possible or that catching criminals is automatic. The visible presence of (security) personnel is more effective than these electronic eyes."