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Welcome to Skynet, the CCTV Surveillance Society

Nov 09, 20105 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

With emerging and existing CCTV technology, you are being watched by "Skynet." The ACLU and Big Brother Watch reveal the high cost of CCTV in terms of privacy and civil liberties.

Welcome to the surveillance society. They are watching you. The next time someone calls you paranoid or asks about your tin foil hat, point them toward the ACLU’s website, You Are Being Watched. The site asks “Do we want a society where we live under an ever-watchful video eye?” Along with highlighting surveillance hot spots, the You Are Being Watched website reveals the high costs of camera surveillance systems, “both in terms of money and civil liberties.” The site mentions true “horror stories” such as when CCTV surveillance has been misused for racial profiling and voyeurism.

The government wants to appear like it is doing something productive to cut crime and terrorism. In regard to CCTV, it has been reported that one crime is solved for every 1,000 cameras. New York University published a statistical study that surveillance cameras do not deter crime much, “if at all, based on five years of evidence.” Furthermore, criminologists and others studying cameras found that violent crime levels showed “no statistically significant change in the level of crime anywhere in the 500 foot range around the cameras.” On the other hand, all that CCTV footage may be successful after a crime has been committed by improving conviction rates and by decreasing the frequency of false convictions. New Orleans recently scrapped its crime camera program. In seven years, its CCTV program produced only six indictments; three were for crimes and three were for bribes.

Some CCTV programs that were supposed to help stop accidents at traffic intersections have had little impact on accidents but proven profitable in fines. Residents argued the CCTV program is not working except as a “money grab” that “tramples on citizens’ individual liberties.” The city of Houston installed 70 “red light cameras” at 50 intersections which resulted in more than 800,000 tickets being issued and Houston collecting $44 million in fines since 2006. Houston is nearly $10 million over budget and Houstonians voted down the city’s red light camera program. Houston has to provide 120-day notice to cancel the contract with ATS, the company that owns and operates the equipment, but is at this time ignoring the will of voters and still issuing tickets to red-light runners and speeders caught through the camera system.

VTT Research in Finland is working on enhancing police traffic surveillance with CCTV that will capture footage from 150 feet away. According to the DailyMail, the ASSET project (Advanced Safety and Driver Support for Essential Road Transport) is the “first to detect multiple offenses at the same time and is connected to police computers via satellite, so that prosecutions can be started within seconds of any offense.” ASSET will detect speeding, distance between vehicles to spot tailgating, capture images to make sure you are wearing a seatbelt, check your license plate number and then look up your information such as if you have current insurance and your taxes are up to date.

Big Brother Watch has covered numerous CCTV programs in Europe that seem especially over-the-top total surveillance society. The Samurai project uses CCTV to look for people “acting suspiciously.” There are CCTV cameras that not only watch but also listen. With Sigard powerful microphones, conversations are monitored to detect potential “threatening” language, aggressive tones or speed of speech which supposedly could detect a fight before it happens. Don’t get excited about anything in public because the system can listen in to private conversations at a distance of 100 yards. It could be bad news for innocent people who are simply excited about their favorite sports team or anything that changes voice patterns. In a sarcastic editorial, the Herald in Scotland suggests installing surveillance cameras and microphones in every room of every new home and office that is built so that terrorists and criminals will have no place to hide.

Science Daily reported on other emerging CCTV technology, also being developed by VTT Research, which is aimed at stopping terrorist attacks by luggage surveillance. “With the help of an application developed as part of the project, cameras recognize abandoned luggage automatically and rapidly identify, locate and track the person who left it there….Security authorities can move any abandoned luggage quickly aside should they conclude that it poses a potential risk.”

The You Are Being Watched site asks you to consider the civil liberty costs of video surveillance systems. Will the time come when you need to be cautious about what you read in public or what sites you surf from your mobile phone? Could you be subjected to prolonged surveillance based upon your choice in unconventional clothing, hairstyles, piercings, or for simply seeming out of place? “Video surveillance technology will only grow more sophisticated. There will come a day when the cameras will be routinely linked with other technologies in an attempt to instantly identify you and me via face recognition, RFIDs, or other technologies. Do we want a society where an innocent individual can’t walk down the street without being considered a potential criminal? Do we want a society where people are comfortable with constant surveillance?”

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  • Google Super Spy Eye-in-the-Sky: Total Information Awareness
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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.