CCTV in J'lem and Ashdod - the Future Is Here

Cameras installed on the streets of Jerusalem's Old City and in Ashdod are said to allow law enforcement officials to respond more quickly to crimes.

The hundreds of closed-circuit TV cameras that have been installed in Jerusalem's Old City since 1999 have helped solve hundreds of crimes, according to police, and helped them to send out forces more quickly to intervene in street fights, stabbings and even pickpocketing.

Meanwhile, the Justice Ministry has begun studying the issue of legislation on installing CCTV cameras in public places.

The team looking into the matter is headed by Orit Koren, deputy attorney general for legislation.

Attorney Avner Pinchuk, who is in charge of issues of privacy and information at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, believes the cameras are a serious infraction of the right to privacy, and even in cases where it is proven they contribute significantly to security, the rules governing their use must be put into writing, and surveillance teams themselves must be continually monitored.

"On the face of it, surveillance cameras seem like a genius invention, which can fight or prevent crime and terror or keep order, ACRI's Pinchuk said. "But accumulated experience in countries where this means has been used and research on the subject do not prove that surveillance cameras help attain the goal for which they were installed. There is no reduction in crime, and there are quite a few cases where the 'security' cameras were used for other purposes, sometimes even criminal purposes, such as surveillance of lovers."

In July 2007, the Jerusalem police released a one-minute video tape from a camera that had recorded two security guards at the Old City's Ateret Kohanim yeshiva chasing a man who had grabbed a weapon from them. The cameras recorded one of the guards shooting and killing the assailant and then collapsing from a gunshot wound. Police say the cameras also determined that the security guards had acted properly.

In Ashdod, 35 cameras have been installed on city streets, in parks, at main intersections and malls. The cameras, connected to a municipal control room, are sufficiently high-resolution to clearly show a driver's face and vehicle's license plate. The Ashdod municipality is planning on installing another 100 to 500 cameras over the next three years.

Police Maj. Gen. (ret.) Dan Ronen, CEO of Hash Systems and Services, the company hired by the city to install the cameras, which decided on their placement together with the municipality and police, said: "The major advantage of the model is if a person is attacked and can't call the police, the people in the control center see he's in trouble and call the patrol to assist."

Rachel Gottlieb, deputy attorney general for criminal matters, told Haaretz she believes the issue of installing the cameras in public places needs to be spelled out in law to balance the right to privacy with the public's need for security.