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COMMENTARY: Are we being watched at the Farmers' Market?

Surveillance cameras give event a 'big brother' feel

It’s a shame that the Hollister City Council and police department may have turned an American, family-friendly tradition – the local Farmers' Market congregation  into an NSA, FBI, and local law enforcement “surveillance state” folly.

Do you know that the Hollister surveillance/spy program put in place for the so-called “family friendly” Bike Rally, has continued afterwards?  The surveillance program that records images, has audio/sound capabilities, the recording of recognizing facial attributes of individuals, and yes, your license plate, for future reference, is on 24-7, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. This is disturbing and more importantly, unwarranted and a violation of the public trust. Not to mention that it is stored for future reference and may very well be shared with the San Francisco Fusion Center of the U.S. Department of Homeland Insecurity, Fear, and Lies. It serves no conceivable legitimate national security interest or purpose, other than using that information (your dietary interest, purchases and conversation) against YOU! 

Spying on neighbors meeting at the local farmers' market, while they share pleasantries, greetings and the latest family news, high school friends share teenage secrets and what they have done for the summer, business colleagues and associates discuss trade confidentialities, etc., could now be in the hands of your local police for their viewing pleasure and interest – the same politicians and appointed officials you entrusted to protect your most fundamental of freedoms.

The uneasiness and surreal discomfort in knowing that you may be surveilled/spied-upon, by your local police, in a local hometown farmers' market – where crime is “rampant”- for no apparent legitimate governmental purpose, in unacceptable. This expression of disdain for and lack of trust in its residents is an example of political leadership and governing standard falling short of expectation.

The so-call legitimate government function or national security interest for this type of dragnet surveillance -- to collect and store your every movement, what we purchase at the market, and what we say to each other in public -- is uncalled for. As we look for greater anonymity, and when our political leaders fall prey to local law enforcement’s call for greater compromise of our individual freedoms and liberties – all based on unfounded fears - is just outright creepy!

As one San Benito High School student shared with me when asked why he wasn't partaking in the farmers' market “…it uneasy and uncomfortable to walk downtown when you know you are being watched by cameras….”.        

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Luis Burguillo (An Engaged and ...)

As a student of the media and journalism, I am interested in utilizing the medium in order to assure that the residents of the City of Hollister and San Benito County are alerted, informed and educated on the official actions of their elected officials who are sworn to preserve, protect and defend the US constitution and Bill of Rights. More importantly, their engagement in the political process will hold the leaders accountable for their actions/decisions and lead to an improved governance.


Submitted by (Marian Cruz) on

A complete waste of money. I was told a grant paid for the cameras. Makes no difference where the money came from, still not warranted.

Submitted by (Luis Burguillo) on

No. A grant was submitted by Hollister for the camera system, but apparently the feds felt that Hollister, Ca. did not warrant such a system and were denied.

It would be interesting if the city "leaders" believe in sharing with its residents and were more transparent and divulge the reasons given by the feds for the denial.

The funds for the existing Hollister Surveillance/Spy Cameras Program with audio/sound, facial recognition and license plate scanning recording system, come from the city's general fund- our tax dollars which could have been use for more noble purposes. Ask your city official for the details.

I think this is worthy of discussion, but there is, in my opinion, a sharp line between things that involve an expectation of privacy and those that do not.  This also apples to how information is used.

I have long publically opposed the illegal collection and use of communication data (phone and internet records) by the NSA and other government agencies and have written Congress on the matter, it is an invasion of privacy.

That said, there is no reasonable  expecation of privacy of actions if you are out in a public place such as the Farmer's Market.  What you say there is private and should only be recorded and/or analyzed with an appropriate warrant., what you do there is public.  It is a simple bright line.

As for license plates and plate numbers, the plate numbers do not belong to you under current law, they belong to the state. They are  actually there as a public record so the authorities can easily identify a vehicle externally.and also see whether the fees were paid, whoowns it, etc.

You may not know it but the PD also has vehicle-mounted license plate readers so they can drive aroumd and collect data.  IMHO, the PD should have strict rules on what data  can be used when that identifies the location of individuals or vehicles. 

So, some protections are in order even WITHIN the PD and governnment sphere of influence, Government agency employees have been caught using the data for personal purposes natonwide and the city my be legally responsible if they do not have policies and proceures in place and enforced.

Regarding costs - yes - it's too exepensive, but so is everything that involves government.  Employing a police officer can easily cost a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year and a traffic light is a third of a million dollars or so.  When you campare the camera system cost to adding around the clock police officers it's a bargain.  I wish that were not so because police officers police better than cameras, but that's  the situation.

The city must make sure they have the appropriate legal protections in place, then they can use the system with confidence and the public's privacy will be also be protected.

Marty Richman


Submitted by (Marvin Jones) on

I have no problem with the cameras per se.

However, considering the militarization of police forces (not ours - yet) with armored personnel carriers, drones, SWAT teams to serve routine subpoenas and search warrants, and the liberal interpretation of the Patriot Act, abuse of the cameras represent another slice off our desire for "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Ruby Ridge and Waco come to mind.

Submitted by (Luis Burguillo) on

I don't know, but its just that I do have an expectation that in a free society, a degree of privacy and anonymity * is proper and expected- not suspected without cause, recorded and stored in a data base for future reference. Yes, privacy. Something we have lost to the post 9/11 overreaction, so-called Patriot Act, FISA Court, NSA, FBI, etc, etc, which serves the national and local intelligence industry hysteria and business interests and taking advantage of the misinformation and fear mongering (a la Rumsfel) law enforcement and politicians. What is the crime rate and national security interest that warrant such concentrated and high tech surveillance in Hollister?

Please explain the rationale and foundational basis for this degree of surveillance we have in Hollister (81 surveillance cameras for a population of just over 36,000)? I just don't get it.

So my personal decision is to patronize neighboring Farmers Market, i.e. San Juan Bautista, that on any weekend host a bike rally together with music, have similar crime rates, and national security interests, and yes do not have surveillance cameras. There, I feel that they respect personal privacy and anonymity - and they are not worst-off for it.

I'm just saying!
*The right to public anonymity provides assurance that, when in public, one will remain nameless–unremarked, part of the undifferentiated crowd–as far as the government is concerned.


You are assuming something that is not in evidence - we are anything but a free society.  The terrorists have won, if you don't believe me just go to any regular commeical airport.  The famous poster used to say, "Land of the free, BECAUSE of the brave."  Now it should read, "We used to be free and we used to be brave, now we are afraid of everything."

My frind Marvin Jones posts about the militarization of America's police forces, the same problem exists when the military becomes involved in policing.  The two have incompatible missions and rules of engaement - or should have.  At some point the citizens cannot distinguish between the police and the military and we are in real trouble.

Just because I can argue that cameras are a legal and practical anwer to many policing difficulties does NOT mean I adore them.  They need tight CONTROLS.  You have a right and a reason to be concerned.

Marty Richman

Submitted by (Luis Burguillo) on


I agree that the militarization of the police is already a foregone conclusion. I still believe that in Hollister we can prevent that from taking further hold, if we insist it from our city "leaders" and police department.

I have asked for the city's policy, guidelines and regulations regarding the use of Hollister's surveillance/spy cameras, how they are used, how long is the information kept and what assurances are there so that we do not need to worry about a police "surveillance state" - none have been published. Never mind a full accounting of the cost related to the recent "Family Friendly" Bike Rally, together with the stabbing, Chevron, Rancho and Prospect shootings- still waiting.


I respect your resistance to 'big brother' watching citizens and maintaining data on all of us, but the fight to resist surveillance of the public was lost long ago. My dad used to appear at protests in Berkeley about 40 years ago and knew back then that he was being identified and photographed by the police/government in those days.

The fact that the Hollister police is formally implementing techonology that has, in one way or another, existed for decades is not surprising nor, in my opinion, worth fighting against. But as I said, I respect your cause. 

After 9/11, government - for better or worse - has stepped up surveillance of the public. Some would argue that photographic data assisted the government in the arrest and prosecution of terrorists that planned and executed the Boston Marathon Bombing of innocent citizens who just wanted to celebrate the event and were injured/maimed/killed by evil-doers whom were eventually caught because of photographic data captured by 'big brother' cameras recording the event.

I am grateful that 'big brother' recording of citizens actions/events assisted the police/government in apprehending the criminals responsible for that crime. 

As Marty expressed, surveillance videos assist law enforcement without obligating the public to hire or pay overtime to police in the prosecution of crimes. 

I support the modernization/investment of video surveillance accordingly.

Mike Smith 

Submitted by (Luis Burguillo) on

The opposition to the general militarization of our society and freedoms is my cause. For some odd reason, I still have this faith in the US Constitution- the last remaining frontier.

Surveillance/Spy Cameras, in all places like Hollister the hotbed of crime and terrorism, is a little mind boggling. This action by our city "leaders" and police should be questioned and not just accepted as a forgone conclusion.

The community's reaction to the Ferguson, Missouri leadership and military style policing mishandling is offered as evidence. This type of unjustified surveillance and profiling by a police state mindset is unwarranted.

The Boston bombing arrests, as was the Times Square bomb attempt, were achieved through the cooperation and reporting to police, by the kidnapped victim of the Boston bombers and a street vendor, in the New York Time Square case, not the other way around. That it was the public, the same people the state and police surveill, who reported and brought about the arrests is the fact. The surveillance cameras played an after-the-fact role. The police would like to take credit, but the truth is just the opposite. The involvement and trust between community and law enforcement is the key to safe communities. This trust is fostered not by surreptitious tools, i.e. surveillance/spy cameras and license plate scanners capturing, storing of information, and the dissemination of the same without probable cause.

So ordinary "leadership" who govern without serious consideration of our constitutional rights need to be held accountable and to answer. We should not just lay down and surrender.

Surveillance cameras assist government and their enforcers (police) to target the public (the innocent). They are not there to protect us, they are there for the purpose of developing a record against us.

So if crime is at an all time low (per FBI), nationally and in Hollister, what is the real reason(s) behind this paranoia reaction?

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