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Army corps seeks input on allowing security cameras on docks at Lake Lanier
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Many dock owners on Lake Lanier would like to see the Corps of Engineers allow security cameras on docks.

Lake Lanier residents and users are facing a classic compromise: privacy or security?

The Army Corps of Engineers in Buford is posing the question for the next month: Should security cameras be allowed on the 10,615 permitted docks around the lake?

Lanier’s camera ban has been in place on docks for a dozen years after being added to the 2004 Lake Lanier Shore Management Plan, which guides Army Corps management of the lake.

Comments will be accepted through June 16 and can be emailed to lanier.docks.cameras@usace.army.mil. Anyone may comment on the policy.

Debate continues on whether it’s a good idea, but with drones buzzing the skies and youngsters using phones to broadcast their personal lives — and often the lives of everyone around them — onto the internet as quickly as possible, both supporters and critics of the camera concept agree that times have changed since 2004.

“We have been reminded of the changes in technology, so in consideration of that, it’s a new day and time for us to look at it,” said Nick Baggett, natural resource manager for the corps on Lake Lanier.

Comments from the public will be the “main consideration” for the corps on whether to make the policy change, Baggett said, and he requested commenters explain their support or opposition in order to help managers make a decision.

“Hopefully we’ll get some good responses, some clear responses on that,” he said.

Should the corps reverse the ban, it would be an administrative change to the management plan — the federal organization wouldn’t need to go through another public comment and review period, according to Baggett.

“We’re hoping to have a decision in the next few months on it,” he said.

Those who support allowing cameras on docks told The Times it would help prevent or punish theft and other crime, while opponents said having an unknowable number of always-on cameras represents a greater threat to privacy than someone holding a mobile phone.

Gainesville resident Lu Treadway, who lives on Taylor Creek, recalled taking some visiting family out on her Sea Ray Sundancer in June 2014.

“We decided just to float and listen to some music,” Treadway said on Tuesday. “I went to turn some music on and the music didn’t go on. We thought that was really odd. ... So a couple of minutes later (my boyfriend) moves everybody, he opens up the hatch and he looks down there — thinking the battery had gone bad or whatever. No, the battery hadn’t gone bad — the battery was gone.”

Treadway said thefts are becoming more common on Lake Lanier as the region becomes more populated. Allowing security cameras on the lake is worth it to protect property, she said, especially with mobile devices and cameras swarming America’s public spaces.

“You can’t walk into a store and not be videotaped. You can’t be part of an accident and not be videotaped,” she said. “... Drones are everywhere. Phones are in every person’s hand — what privacy? What are you concerned with? It’s a dated law.”

Todd Halverson, a lake resident in the Chestatee area, is concerned about not knowing when he’s on camera. He said being in the background of an iPhone shot or even being intentionally recorded is “different than having a camera on 24 hours a day.”

“I’m assuming that’s how people would use them; they would literally be recording 24 hours a day pointed at whatever direction they wanted and you kind of enter that space unknowingly,” Halverson continued. “I guess that’s the thing — you’re unknowingly being videotaped.”

He and other residents, including those who support adding cameras, said lake residents should take care to not leave valuables within easy reach of passers-by.

Thieves “don’t want to go out of their way. If it’s a quick access, they’ll snatch it,” said Paul Weatherholt, who lives on the lake near Two Mile Creek Park.

But Weatherholt raised another point — having more cameras on the lake could prove useful not just to catch thieves, but to help the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and local law enforcement during search and rescue missions.

“If something was to happen near a dock, they may be able to see if anybody has cameras in the area that could maybe determine what happened to an individual that may have came up missing,” Weatherholt said.

DNR spokesman Mark McKinnon said it’s possible that having more cameras on Lake Lanier could help with rescues and recoveries. He said he could think of only one previous instance where DNR was able to check a private camera during an investigation, but the quality of the video was poor and only gave authorities a location to begin a search.

“You’ve seen some of the store footage when a store gets robbed or something like that. Some are good video and some are not good video,” McKinnon said. “Certainly it could be helpful if you were in a search situation.”

And that gets back to some homeowners’ privacy concerns — the better the camera and the video, the more of the daily life of Lake Lanier that ends up recorded.

“Especially in the winter time, you can see all of these people’s houses. You can train your camera on multiple houses; you could scan houses,” Halverson said. “... I just feel like we’re potentially opening up a can of worms.”