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Smile!

   There's the homeowner who wanted a video surveillance camera so that he could see if his lawn service had come to cut his grass while he was out of town.

   There's the metal-fabricating company that turned to cameras because officials there noticed a spike in thefts of copper and other scrap metal.

   And there are the scores of schools, libraries, police departments and government agencies that are installing cameras in an effort to improve public safety.

   For these and many other reasons, cameras are rapidly sprouting up in this nation's public and private spaces. It's hard for the typical person to go a full day without ending up in camera range somewhere.

   Government officials, the companies that install these cameras and the customers who bought them say the cameras are a valuable crime-prevention tool.

   But privacy advocates say too many cameras are being installed with too little control over where they are, how they are used and how the recorded images are saved.

   They also point to studies that question whether cameras actually reduce crime, or whether they just displace it to the nearest unwatched corner.

   As Buffalo and other local municipalities add more cameras each year, these are key questions to consider.

   Do you see the proliferation of surveillance cameras as an invasion of your privacy? Or do you think they are reasonable and effective public-safety tools?

   --- Stephen T. Watson

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