Security Camera Plan Prompts Privacy Concerns

The proposal by Pomona College to install additional security cameras has sparked conversation among students and administrators regarding privacy on campus, including concerns that footage from the security cameras will be used to enforce drug and alcohol policies. 

“CCTV [closed-circuit television] monitoring would only be used in public areas in order to deter crime and assist in protecting Pomona College’s community and property,” reads a memo that Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum sent to the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) Senate on Feb. 26. “Furthermore, CCTV monitoring of public areas would not violate the reasonable expectation of privacy, as defined by law.”

The cameras cannot be used for active monitoring of students, faculty, or staff members, and monitoring of public spaces must be in accordance with existing college policies, according to the statement, which is based on a memo issued in 2012 by former Director of Campus Safety Shahram Ariane.

"The cameras aren't actively monitoring anyone," Dean of Campus Life Ric Townes said. "It's really an archive so that we can go back."

Pomona's security cameras are currently limited to computer labs and parking garages, according to Townes, but the proposed changes would expand surveillance to locations such as bike racks and residence hall entrances.

Ariane brought the possibility of installing more cameras to Pomona's attention earlier this year, Townes said. Since assuming his position in February, Interim Director of Campus Safety Dean Manship has worked with Pomona and a contractor to come up with potential locations to place under surveillance.

Townes presented Pomona's intent to install more cameras at the Feb. 24 ASPC meeting. Administrators, including Feldblum and Townes, and students will meet after spring break to discuss where to place the new cameras.

Campus Safety will not use the security cameras to enforce alcohol and drug use policies, Feldblum said.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union of the Claremont Colleges (ACLU-CC) wrote in a statement released to TSL that in spite of Pomona’s intent not to monitor alcohol and drug use, outside law enforcement could still use security camera footage to prosecute students.

“Even with the best intentions and principles, we view it as highly likely that such behavior will at least occasionally be caught on film, and we call for clarity concerning Pomona’s legal obligations and recourse for both the college and students depicted on CCTV against involuntary disclosure,” the statement reads.

Aldair Arriola PO '17 said that the Pomona administration needs to make its intentions behind installing security cameras on campus clearer.

“If the security cameras that are being put in place help to lessen the criminal activity at Pomona, I think it’s worth it, but I think it’s something that needs to be put very explicitly in writing that they will not be prosecuting students,” Arriola said.

Under college policy, footage from both the proposed and existing cameras are saved for 30 days before being deleted unless they are retained for a criminal or civil investigation.

Pomona’s security camera footage has been used in the past to catch policy violations, Feldblum said. She cited an incident in which individuals not affiliated with the Claremont Colleges caused damage to Skyspace, a public art installation on Pomona's campus by James Turrell PO '65. Campus Safety used surveillance footage of the damage being caused alongside a separate report about the same people from that night to implicate them in the vandalism.

Some students noted the benefits of additional security cameras.

“I wouldn’t feel safer, but I would feel that my property is more secure,” Thomas Rivera PO '17 said. “If somebody was trying to steal a bike, they might be able to provide that footage to Claremont police, and they might be able to do something with it. There’s also been several cases of people conducting lewd acts, and it could also help prosecute people for that.”

According to its statement, ACLU-CC supports the enactment of stricter guidelines as the implementation of CCTV cameras moves forward at Pomona.

“Specifically, we would like to see an annual or otherwise periodic report provided to ASPC and made public, detailing the usage of CCTV,” the statement reads. “Such a report would include statistics concerning how often CCTV footage is referenced, for what purpose, when it is provided to outside law enforcement organizations, and how often CCTV footage actually leads to the resolution of a crime or complaint.”