You’re being watched on the Mall

A Northrop Mall webcam and others around campus provide a live feed online.

Tyler Gieseke

Debra Burton and her son have found a new way to connect although they live more than 200 miles apart.

She asked her son to stand in front of an online webcam on Northrop Mall while they were talking on the phone.

“I was just creeping on him,” she said, laughing.

While some University of Minnesota students don’t realize that a webcam in Walter Library plays a live feed of Northrop Mall to the College of Science and Engineering website, parents and alumni enjoy a peek into campus life.

The webcam in Walter Library is one of several around campus that can be accessed through the CSE website.

Students have mixed reactions to the cameras.

“I guess it’s just people-watching, but they can’t see that you’re doing it,” astrophysics freshman Michael Feken said. “It’s cool and interesting, but at the same time it’s a little odd.”

Peter Riemenschneider, a CSE communications staff member, came up with the idea, hoping it would be a good resource for the University and would bring CSE some bragging rights.

He said the webcam’s page on the CSE website has seen about 137,000 unique views since it launched in August of 2009.

“It’s one of our top-trafficked pages overall on our website,” said CSE spokeswoman Rhonda Zurn.

Walter Library is a great location in the heart of campus, Zurn said, and some of the office windows offer easy access for a webcam to view Northrop Mall.

The CSE Communications Office maintains the Northrop Mall camera and a webcam on the roof of Akerman Hall. Zurn said the Akerman Hall camera is there to view the Scholars Walk and the construction of the Physics and Nanotechnology Building.

Several other webcams are positioned throughout the University system.

The CSE website links to many cameras besides the Northrop Mall webcam, including cameras on the Morris, Crookston and Duluth campuses.

Although some students don’t know about the webcam, some parents and alumni have responded with excitement. A link to the webcam is provided in the newsletter distributed by the University Parent Program, Riemenschneider said.

“That gets a big response.”

University parents Ronelle Glaza and Burton said they accessed the webcam through the Parent Program newsletter.

Glaza said she enjoys seeing what the weather is like on campus and comparing it to where she lives about 3 1/2 hours away.

“It’s kind of nice just to see the campus in action and to see the campus life firsthand,” she said.

Some alumni, Zurn said, have found the webcam “nostalgic.”

Duane Hanson, an alumnus who lives on the West Coast, said via email to CSE that he loved to see campus again every day.

Riemenschneider said there have been few concerns that the webcam may be an invasion of privacy. Zurn said the zoom controls are turned off.

Right to privacy

The webcam does not violate any privacy laws, said William McGeveran, University Law School associate professor.

“Walking in a public space, you’re considered to be in public view,” he said.

If it was conceivable that someone could view a scene in person — perhaps by standing on a sidewalk or looking out a window — it’s acceptable to place a camera there instead, he said.

“The law assumes that the camera is just substituting for your eyes.”

He also pointed out that individuals moving around on campus are being taped on security cameras much of the time.

The 2,300 security cameras on campus are monitored 24 hours daily, according to the University’s website.

Entrepreneurial management and public and nonprofit management major Tenzin Sonam said he doubts many students know about the webcam, but there “might be a large population of students against having a public webcam there.”

“It’s kind of, like, creepy,” business freshman Shanel Perez said. “But it’d be interesting to see how people interact.”