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Times Square bombing attempt reveals limits of video surveillance

The New York City Police Department has released surveillance video of a man leaving the scene near where a car bomb was found in Times Square. The man is seen taking off his shirt as he walks down the street.

"You'll find that camera surveillance in fixed sites with clear sight lines and relatively little movement, such as parking lots, tend to have a pretty high success rate in detecting unusual movement," Lyon said. "But really, parking lots are the prize case."

The Las Vegas Strip, the famed four-mile stretch of casinos, may be home to more security cameras per square foot than any airport or sports arena in the country. In Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, cameras used to monitor large intersections and busy highways help police reconstruct accidents and crimes. "Having surveillance cameras is great in that it does help you to catch criminals," said Tony Lake, a security consultant and former chief constable of Lincolnshire, England.

But in the United States, as in Britain, privacy rights advocates say the evidence linking video cameras to lower crime rates is ambiguous at best. In some cities, surveillance networks are initially embraced, only to suffer from falling support after residents fail to perceive improvements in security, said Simon Davies, director of London-based Privacy International.

"If you asked people five years ago 'Will databases solve a problem, will cameras cure a crime?' a lot of people would have said yes" Davies said. But now, he said, "you're hearing a level of cynicism that hasn't existed before . . . because people are reading more stories about the failures of technology."

New York officials have shown no signs of remorse. After installing hundreds of video cameras in the city's financial district after 2001, the city has committed to spending $110 million to add video cameras in Midtown Manhattan.

"This is a function that government should provide," New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) said Monday at a news conference in the Bronx.

Staff writers Peter Finn and Ellen Nakashima and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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