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Say Cheese When Jaywalking

Shanghai and Chicago are becoming leaders in the age of high-tech surveillance of their citizens.

The Windy City plans to upgrade 2,000 street cameras with sophisticated computer programs that can automatically spot suspicious human behavior, such as someone leaving a package on a bench or a person wandering aimlessly in a circle. Police can then be dispatched to the scene more quickly, hoping to catch a criminal or prevent a terrorist bomb.

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The "Paris of the Orient," as China's giant seaport city used to be called, has adopted a slightly less-tech way of catching troublemakers.

Shanghai's 17 million residents have been enlisted to use their own cameras, even those in cellphones, to snap images of people violating traffic laws and then send them on to the police. Each "winning photo," or one that results in catching a lawbreaker, earns the deputized photo-cop the equivalent of a $2.40 reward.

In China's cities, where an explosion of cars and bad driving has created traffic chaos, police need all the help they can get. Many are attacked when they stop unruly drivers. Shanghai's new citizen-surveillants are helping out by the thousands, and making a profit of it, too.

As long as no one is digitally editing photos to, well, shanghai the innocent, then city residents might just enjoy the increase in safety.

It's a bit of an ideological flip that Communist-run China is putting more power in the hands of the masses, while a big American city is putting more power in the hands of the police, even computers.

Who's being more Big Brother?


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