Somebody's watching me: privacy and other issues with Chicago's two new ordinances

    Picture a spring without Dillo Day or Chicago's streets without Occupy protesters. Two new ordinances introduced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and approved by City Council on Wednesday may make gatherings like these illegal.

    The ordinances are part of an effort to crack down on anticipated protests during the May NATO and G8 summits in Chicago. The first ordinance, which passed 45-4, creates stricter guidelines and raises fees for parade and gathering organizers. The second ordinance, approved 41-5, raises fines for protesters that resist arrest and grants Mayor Emanuel blanket spending authority. The ordinances additionally give the Chicago Police Department the power to outsource law enforcement officials and place them within Chicago as needed.

    The ordinances, which also give Mayor Emanuel permission to use citywide electronic surveillance, are causing controversy because they can potentially suppress otherwise lawful protests as well as violate privacy of Chicagoans.

    “The superintendent is also authorized to enter into agreements with public or private entities concerning placement, installation, maintenance or use of video, audio, telecommunications or other similar equipment. The location of any camera or antenna permanently installed pursuant to any such agreement shall be determined pursuant to joint review and approval with the executive director of emergency management and communications,” reads the second ordinance.

    Alderman Leslie Hairston, who serves Chicago’s 5th Ward, voted against both ordinances. Hairston says citizens in her ward "support her overwhelmingly." She said their main concern was the restrictions being placed on their civil liberties.

    The ordinances could potentially have consequences for privacy and could force aldermen to cede some of their political powers to the mayor's authority as supervisor of the ordinances. Hairston is uncomfortable with the unlimited authority given to the mayor and feels that the ordinances raise constitutional issues.

    "I'd like to see some oversight. I'd like to see some guidelines," said Hairston of what changes she would like to see made to the ordinances. More likely than not, there will be no amendments made to the nearly unanimously passed ordinances before the summits take place in May. The controversy over the ordinances, particularly with regard to protest guidelines, could cause conflict between police officers and insistent protesters during the summits. With global attention on Chicago, any negative publicity over clashing law enforcement and protesters would likely be magnified. The Occupy Chicago movement, which refers to these ordinances as "Sit-Down-and-Shut-Up Ordinances," responded on their website by reminding Mayor Emanuel that they will continue to exercise the right to protest.

    What does this mean for our lives in the greater Chicago area? As American citizens? Perhaps the video surveillance will continue after the summits, circa London’s CCTV campaign to deter crime by videotaping activities on public streets. Or perhaps this really is the well-intentioned ordinance it is purported to be, simply increasing safety precautions for a significant event in Chicago’s history. Perhaps it is the next step towards Aldous Huxley’s vision of a Brave New World.

    Should we view this bill as a condemnation of fighting for civil rights or as an effort to better the lives of citizens and their safety? Is it anti-protest or simply pro-summit? However it is considered, it is certain that as a leader in both statewide and national politics, Chicago and its new security style could be a bellwether for policies affecting Evanston, the state of Illinois or even the nation as a whole.


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