ORLANDO, Fla. - The city of Orlando has installed more than 130 surveillance cameras on its streets during the last five years, 9 Investigates has learned.
The IRIS cameras keep an eye on people all over the city and taxpayers paid for them at a cost of $8,000 to $17,000 each, but investigative reporter Christopher Heath discovered residents aren't allowed to know where the cameras are located, what the video shows or who is looking at the images.
The so-called surveillance state has become a more-debated issue recently with high-profile cases of government agencies monitoring the behavior of citizens, even those not engaged in criminal activity.
On the one hand, law enforcement said enhanced surveillance helps fight crime and prevent terrorist attacks, but critics said cameras like the ones all over Orlando's streets chip away at privacy rights.
Heath reviewed video of a man badly beaten under an Interstate 4 bridge. As the robbers attacked, the footage shows police arriving and making the arrests.
During the last five years, Orlando police have used a network of surveillance cameras to capture everything from plant thefts to a city police officer hitting a homeless man with his car.
But Heath discovered where each camera is located and who has access to the video is not public information.
"We don't want to displace crime, we want to eliminate it," former OPD Police Chief Val Demings said in early 2008, when the city announced the IRIS camera program.
Leaders hailed the cameras as a crime-fighting tool, but since they were announced, information about how the system works has become a closely guarded secret.
Responding to 9 Investigates' request for information on the system, Orlando police cited confidentiality and refused to discuss the matter.
"To me, it doesn't seem like there is a privilege to withhold that information," said local attorney Chris Turner.
Channel 9 has appealed the department's decision not to release the camera locations and discuss video collected and is awaiting a response from the department's attorney.
Heath noted that one of the cameras is located at the corner of Hughey and
Central, but the Police Department won't confirm where any of the cameras are, even when one is located less than 50 feet from the police headquarters.
Yet it was a camera just like those all over Orlando that helped authorities track down the Boston bombing suspects.
But critics said privacy is eroding in the name of public safety.
"All of the eyes of the government are on you," said Orlando resident Osiris Akkebala.
Akkebala likes to walk Lake Eola, but just about every step he takes is recorded by police and he, like the rest of the public, has no right to see that video.
"You no longer have the right to privacy here no more," he said.
After receiving a letter from a Channel 9 attorney, the
Police Department did disclose that it has 138 cameras and plans for 17 more.
Department officials insist the system has stopped nearly 800 crimes and helped officers make more than 110 arrests.