Policy Legitimacy, Rhetorical Politics, and the Evaluation of City-Street Video Surveillance Monitoring Programs in Canada

Article excerpt


IN AN IMPORTANT discussion of evaluation research pertaining to contemporary surveillance technologies, Haggerty (2009) argues that managerialism as a governing mentality has contributed to the rise of an evidence-rather than ethics-based paradigm for evaluating and justifying a range of surveillance systems. He allegorizes evaluation research as an "unregulated knife fight" where "rules do not apply" and claims about objectivity function as an ideological gloss to mask political interests. For Haggerty, debates about the extent to which surveillance systems "work" hinge more on the ways in which adversaries debate one another on methodological grounds than they do on objective scientific evidence or the ethics of conducting public surveillance.

Haggerty's arguments about the rhetorical politics of evaluation research are a welcome addition to the literature on surveillance, security practices, and crime control. His primarily theoretical arguments, however, can be supplemented and refined through empirical investigation. To this end, we use Haggerty's arguments as an entry point to examine the role of rhetorical politics (1) in achieving and maintaining policy legitimacy in one surveillance domain: city-street video surveillance in the province of Ontario, Canada. We explain how video surveillance systems in Ontario are partially legitimized through a set of rhetorical policy gestures that appear to comply with principles institutionalized in the Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC)'s privacy protection policy framework on public-area video surveillance. Examining the role of rhetorical politics in Ontario's video surveillance security culture is important because the existing literature on camera evaluation--a literature whose aim is to improve techniques of evaluation by refining scientific measures (see Burns-Howell and Pascoe 2004; Ratcliffe and Taniguchi 2008; Ratcliffe et al. 2009; Welsh and Farrington 2004)--has not sufficiently explained how rhetorical framing is used to legitimate evaluation findings.

This article has three sections. In the first section, we examine the literature on evidence-based policy evaluation. We also describe Ontario's city-street monitoring evaluation practices in the context of the Ontario IPC's privacy protection policy framework on public-area video surveillance. Following a brief note regarding method, we report on video surveillance program evaluations in four cities, granting special attention to the rhetorical use of evaluation findings in the context of municipal politics and debates. We demonstrate how the rhetorical politics of video surveillance evaluation research strives for legitimacy by appearing to adhere to the IPC's best practices guidelines--guidelines that are formulated to minimize rhetoric in system design and deployment. (2) We also discuss the issue of evaluation atrophy, whereby stakeholders either reduce their efforts to conduct evaluations or cease altogether when external and internal pressures to maintain legitimacy are absent. In the final section, we identify four scenarios for academics, system administrators, and privacy protection advocates to improve the design of evaluation protocols and monitoring programs.


A sizable body of scientific evidence on the crime-reduction potential of public video surveillance indicates that monitoring systems are able to realize their stated objectives in only a small number of physical locations (e.g., parking areas) and under specific conditions (e.g., camera positioning, effective communication channels among law enforcement agencies). There is evidence that other measures such as street lighting and security guards are more effective than video surveillance in preventing property and violent crime (Welsh and Farrington 2009). Another set of studies finds that city-street video surveillance is not very effective in reducing crime in city centers (Gill 2003; Gill and Spriggs 2005; Welsh and Farrington 2004, 2005, 2009). …