How would you feel if you walked out your front door one day and noticed a big surveillance camera had been installed on a light pole across the street with no warning or notice.
You’d want to know who put it there, who is it watching, is it watching me?
That’s what one Phoenix neighborhood went through recently.
FOX 10 got to the bottom of who installed the camera but that only lead to even more concerns about their privacy.
When neighbors in one Phoenix community saw a camera pop up on a street light pole in their neighborhood they started asking questions.
“There it was, this box with this plexiglass front with what looked like a camera lens sticking out,” said Alex Holman.
Holman first saw the camera on a city light poll in January and he took photos of it.
“Then I decided to figure out who it was because I didn’t like the idea of a camera spying on my neighborhood. I have kids playing down the street and I don’t know who it is that’s getting that feed,” said Holman.
“The cameras high enough at an angle it can see very easily into peoples backyards. I don’t know if you’ve ever stood on top of your roof but you can see into peoples back yards at that angle and this is at least 10 to 15 feet higher than that,” said Amanda Holman.
More neighbors became concerned about who installed the camera and what it was watching.
“I decided to look in to it, when police said it wasn’t theirs I got a little nervous, I got scared,” said Alex.
He started making more calls. “At first I went from the APS customer service, to their construction department help desk, to their joint use department, and back to the construction help desk,” said Alex.
But it wasn’t until FOX 10 started making calls that APS came forward admitting they installed the camera. The big question remains, why would a utility company install a camera on a city light pole in the middle of a residential neighborhood?
“I’m ok with people putting cameras on their own personal property but I’m not okay with people installing it to a light post,” he said.
In a statement, the utility company says “This was a unique situation. In coordination with the city and local law enforcement, we placed the camera to provide an extra level of home security for an APS employee who had legitimate concern for the safety of his family. The camera focused solely on the employee’s residence. No other properties were in view.”
“Utility employees have at times come under threats either when they’re doing work out in the communities or if there’s a rate hike,” said Diane Brown.
Diane Brown with Arizona PIRG, a public interest research group, doesn’t know the details of the case but says APS should be commended for working to protect the safety of their employee, however she adds people in that community should have been notified of a camera.
“There’s certainly a question whether APS, the city, the police department should be the ones putting up any type of surveillance camera at a minimum no matter who puts it up, folks in the community should be apprised of the reasons surrounding surveillance and known if in fact if they are being watched if their civil liberties are at stake,” said Brown.
So how does APS or any other private company get access to conduct this kind of surveillance on city property? a light poll? can anyone do this? we contacted the city.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the city said, “the street transportation department did approve the camera installation, with the understanding that it was for an APS business need. Any such requests are approved on a case by case basis.”
“What you have here is the local government allowing, apparently for free, a private company to post up a camera on a government poll,” said attorney Marc Victor.
Attorney and freedom activist, Marc Victor says that’s troublesome. “My law firm is a private company I wonder if I went to the government and said hey I’d like to post a camera somewhere, I suspect I would have trouble,” said victor.
Victor says in this day and age of cameras there is increasing attention being put on the public’s reasonable expectation of privacy. “There are cameras everywhere today so one could argue no reasonable person should have any expectation of privacy the moment they walk outside the home,” he said.
Eventually, someone in the neighborhood put a sign over the camera saying ‘I see you too.’ APS took the camera down two weeks ago.
“You hear these stories Edward Snowden and all these different things that are happening and security is a big issue, who has your data and who is watching you its America we have the right to privacy,” said Amanda Holman.
“At the very least I should have been forewarned it was going on so I had the chance to say hey I don’t want this here who do I have to talk to stop this from going in,” said Alex Holman.
The utility company told us they are now reviewing their use of a camera in this case.
Update: The Whitewash
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