Nashville authorities — especially the police and those overseeing public housing — have steadily increased the use of surveillance cameras to monitor for crime, or try to deter it.
Now a new proposal could rein in Metro’s use of such technology.
A bill up for consideration this week would insert the Metro Council into the approval process for any future cameras and devices. And sponsor Dave Rosenberg, a Bellevue councilman, also wants to ban devices known as “license plate readers,” which log vehicles as they come and go.
“We’re headed in the direction of a very Orwellian society, if we’re not there already,” Rosenberg told WPLN. “Mostly I’d like to make sure that we’re striking an appropriate balance between public safety and privacy rights.”
The councilman describes a scenario in which the movement of a resident could be followed over long distances, including through increasingly available facial recognition technologies.
His proposal would govern a wide array of “surveillance technology” — a term Rosenberg details with a lengthy and methodical list of what he has in mind, including:
- biometric surveillance technology;
- x-ray vans;
- surveillance enabled or capable lightbulbs or light fixtures;
- through-the-wall radar or similar imaging technology, and;
- predictive policing software.
Rosenberg also points to a new license plate reader installed on a pole at a key entry point to the small independent city of Belle Meade.
“It’s not there to look for a fugitive,” he said. “It is there to see who is coming in and out of Belle Meade.”
In terms of more traditional cameras, Nashville has added dozens in recent years.
Metro police said the department now has 83 cameras — typically visible with a glowing blue light — and investigators use them often (learn more here).
The Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency has about as many. Between 2013 and 2015, MDHA installed 60 cameras, with plans for more. The agency did not immediately provide a new count on Monday.
The cameras are hard to ignore, said Rodney Northington, a 27-year-old resident of MDHA's Cayce Homes in East Nashville. He questions whether authorities need cameras in addition to the steady patrol presence he notices — and said they erode trust.
“It’s really just a scare tactic. And some people have mental issues, too, and feel like they’re being watched at all times. That’s not good on a person,” Northington said.
Yet Rosenberg, the councilman, said he has already heard from police about the benefits of cameras in investigations, so he plans to tweak his initial wording after first introduction at the council meeting Tuesday.
He also notes he’s not meddling with security at homes or private businesses — only gear placed on public property used for government surveillance.
WPLN's Meribah Knight contributed to this report.