Surveillance Cameras in U.S. Cities

From EPIC:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has requested more than $2 billion to finance grants to state and local governments for homeland security needs. Some of this money is being used by state and local governments to create networks of surveillance cameras to watch over the public in the streets, shopping centers, at airports and more. However, studies have found that such surveillance systems have little effect on crime, and that it is more effective to place more officers on the streets and improve lighting in high-crime areas. There are significant concerns about citizens' privacy rights and misuse or abuse of the system. A professor at the University of Nevada at Reno has alleged that the university used a homeland security camera system to surreptitiously watch him after he filed a complaint alleging that the university abused its research animals. Also, British studies have found there is a significant danger of racial discrimination and stereotyping by those monitoring the cameras.

Posted on May 16, 2005 at 9:00 AM • 31 Comments

Comments

T.May 16, 2005 10:09 AM

"Networks" of surveillance cameras? This is scary. I understand collecting evidence and having guards monitor camera systems, but with the recent proposals of including biometric data mandatory in identification documents, imagine they hook up all cameras to a biometric database containing facial features (soon available from passports and drivers licenses). Complete profiling of the general public will become possible. Looks like a totalitarian surveillance tool to me.

With unencrypted RFID tags in IDs, even businesses can easily track their customers this way. Actually, they could connect name and face when somebody uses their credit card and store it in a database to track his behaviour using their surveillance cameras, too. But this would 'just' work for customers.

ChadMay 16, 2005 10:29 AM

Welcome to the 'baseball cap and hood' countermeasure criminal culture that has developed here in the UK.

ZwackMay 16, 2005 10:40 AM

Well, I guess we could all start wearing masks and putting our ID cards in some form of shielded container (weren't RSA developing a token that responded as all possible tokens to confuse RFID scanners and hide real RFID answers?)

The man in the Iron Mask as a new fashion sub-culture.

Z.

AnonymousMay 16, 2005 10:57 AM

The last statement is odd. "British studies have found there is a significant danger of racial discrimination and stereotyping by those monitoring the cameras."

What does that have to do with cameras ? Just like guns don't float around shooting people, cameras don't make people racist.

MikeMay 16, 2005 11:03 AM

"What does that have to do with cameras ? Just like guns don't float around shooting people, cameras don't make people racist."

You answered your own question. It has to be the person pulling the trigger that is violent, just as it has to be the person behind the camera that is racist.

What it is trying to say is that because of the very fact that the person behind the camera is removed from the physical situation that they would be able to more biased in what they report or don't report.

Most of the time they would be in a locked room with very few other people, no public witnesses.

Steve L.May 16, 2005 11:25 AM

This is a very scary reality. I have seen it here in Chicago and quite frankly I don't know anyone that really likes the idea.

However, what can any of us do about it? If DHS wants it they get it. Honestly, if anyone does know of any "effective" way of stopping these cameras from being used please speak up.

-Steve L.

Maureen HayMay 16, 2005 12:14 PM

The real problem with racial profiling and these camera systems is that race is about all you can tell about a person from the cameras. You can't be like a police officer on the scene, who can make eye contact with a person and makes a judgement from there. As I recall from reading about the UK cameras a while ago, there also was a great deal of checking out young women going on by the camera operators. In NY, where people who live in skyscrapers don't neccessarily pull the blinds shut, there has been a good deal of peeping-tom behavior from camera operators.

It's funny, but the most important thing to know about the cameras' effectiveness is who would you be hiring to watch them. My guess is that like most security jobs they would mostly be filled with young men. Who you probably would actually want would be older people, especially women, who would probably be better at understanding motives and social interactions.

RvnPhnxMay 16, 2005 12:21 PM

It is worth noting that at the instution of higher learning (my ass) where I got my diploma and in the surrounding neighborhoods, that the addition of more street lights has indeed actually made it an easier task for criminals to spot possible victims from several blocks away--and led to an increase in simple muggings and robberies. This fact is just more evidence that quick technological fixes do not remedy sociological ills. The same applies for cameras. Why shouldn't this be obvious?

TimTheEnchanterMay 16, 2005 1:20 PM

Of course in the U.K. and probably the whole E.U. video from CCTV cameras count as personal data, therefore you can request to see this data (at a charge of max £10 sterling ($18.40 dollars)) and they *must* provide it within 28 days.

Some naughty people could even use this system to make vexatious requests...

digitalprimateMay 16, 2005 2:11 PM

You may be interested in the Security Camera Players (http://www.notbored.org/the-scp.html), especially this link (http://www.notbored.org/army.html) detailing visits by the US Military, et al.

While they're an activist group with a clear agenda, much of the information on the site has wider applications for understanding the scope and methods of video surveillance.

Bruce SchneierMay 16, 2005 5:00 PM

The last statement is odd. 'British studies have found there is a significant danger of racial discrimination and stereotyping by those monitoring the cameras.' What does that have to do with cameras ? Just like guns don't float around shooting people, cameras don't make people."

The cameras don't make people racist. Read the statement again: those monitoring the cameras perform racial discrimination and stereotyping.

grahamcMay 17, 2005 12:27 AM

"Read the statement again: those monitoring the cameras perform racial discrimination and stereotyping."

Better still, read the article on the EPIC web site and track down the sources. One of the quoted sources is "The unforgiving Eye: CCTV surveillance in public space" Dr Clive Norris and Gary Armstrong of the Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice at Hull University, UK. This includes the statements "The gaze of the cameras does not fall equally on all users of the street but on those who are stereotypical[ly] predefined as potentially deviant" and "Black people were between one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half times more likely to be surveilled than one would expect from their presence in the population". The cameras don't make the monitors do it, but in practice it is what happens. Hence the conclusion that there is a "significant danger of racial discrimination and stereotyping".

Things make more sense if you track down and read the reasoning behind the conclusions.

egeltjeMay 17, 2005 1:44 AM

There is now some interesting development in Groningen (city in the north of The Netherlands) where microphones are added, the street noise analized and the person behind the monitor notified of violent sounds on one of the cameras.
On one side, this helps in determining which monitor to look at if some violence occurs.
On the other side, now they cannot only see you, they can also hear you (although they claim the system isn't meant for that...)

Nolan EakinsMay 17, 2005 3:04 AM

So how exactly is this going to stop a crime or terrorist plot?

"That tan skinned guy on screen 4 is reaching to his belt," one pro TV watcher thinks as he stares glossy eyed at his screens.

Second later, BOOM!

"HOLY $@#7!!!"

Not much he could have done. At least with a man at the scene the plan could have been thwarted by a cop noticing the nervous body movements and reach towards the belt, and then tackling the guy on the hunch.

The government just wants a sense of security and not Security. At least giving people a sense of security will get them elected to pass more draconian laws.

- Nolan

MikeMay 17, 2005 4:06 AM

Nolan, I also don't believe it will always stop a crime or terrorist plot, but at least they would help to form a picture of what happened before and give clues for any investigations afterwards.

Any government is in a bit of a catch-22 situation with this, as they can't please everyone all of the time. Either put the systems in place that possibly may help if something bad happens, or not put them in and suffer the backlash if something did happen and there was a chance a system like this might have helped.

While seeing that there are at least some civil liberty issues here, I have to see why they might prefer to err on the side of caution.

Steve S.May 17, 2005 8:33 AM

"Honestly, if anyone does know of any "effective" way of stopping these cameras from being used please speak up."

Make it so they don't provide any valuable data. I carry both a ski mask and a laser with a lens to disperse the beam like a focused flashlight. It's effective for overwhelming the camera when nearby.

This is all due to the dilligence of the Johns Hopkins University, which feels the need to act as a police force for its entire surrounding neighborhood. I felt safer before having to pass half a dozen cameras when going out to buy bread at the market.

NormMay 17, 2005 9:51 AM

I am suprised that you haven't analyzed what is actually happening in the UK. Last time I was over there, I was immediately struck by how many CCD cameras were around. However, anytime I picked up a British newspaper, there was inevitably a story about how a crime was solved using these cameras. Are they a perfect solution? Of course not. Can they prevent crime? In some situations, maybe. But (and this is a big butt), as a tool, if used appropriately, can be of real use to society. Like the analogy to guns, it has the capability to be used for us or against us.

damonMay 17, 2005 10:21 AM

Nolan wrote:
"Not much he could have done. At least with a man at the scene the plan could have been thwarted by a cop noticing the nervous body movements and reach towards the belt, and then tackling the guy on the hunch."
I guess the next logical step is to arm the cameras with 'non-lethal' and later lethal weapons as we've done with surveillance drones. All in favor, DUCK!

mjkMay 17, 2005 10:49 AM

I am setting up cameras all around my house. People like to throw litter over my fence into my yard. If I had to pick between taking my family to a public entertainment area, like a movie theater, a park, or community festival, that had cameras versus one that did not have cameras, I would take them to the area with cameras. People love to talk about how cameras dont discourage crime, but encourage crime with hoods and masks. However, a guy with a hood and mask is conspicuous. Plus there is no victim group for people with hoods and masks yet so the cops can profile them without being called racists. Yes a crook can remove the hood and mask after the crime, but while doing the crime they need to wear them. If I'm in a store and I see two people struggling, one with a mask and one without, who is the crook? Forcing criminals to wear masks makes the lines between crooks and regular people much clearer. Also if we have this supposed ubiquitous camera network, removing the mask wont help because CAMERAS ARE EVERYWHERE.

Also, Everybody loves to laugh at security measures that make people "feel" secure are stupid. It all depends on how you define security. I am more likely to die in a car crash than in a violent crime, but I still drive my car everyday. I drive it because I feel secure doing it. I dont walk in a "bad" neighborhood at night because I dont feel secure.

AnonymousMay 17, 2005 12:26 PM

"I am more likely to die in a car crash than in a violent crime, but I still drive my car everyday. I drive it because I feel secure doing it. I dont walk in a "bad" neighborhood at night because I dont feel secure." What point are you trying to make? That you prefer the feeling of security over real security?

Steve S.May 17, 2005 1:40 PM

"a guy with a hood and mask is conspicuous."

Not necessarily. I've started a campaign handing out ski masks in my area to raise awareness of the level of surveillance the neighborhood's under. When it's the norm, it can't be conspicuous.

BSMay 17, 2005 1:56 PM

I think I saw it on this blog quite a while back, but more lighting (mentioned by EPIC as a more effective security measure) doesn't really make you that much safer either.

MikeMay 17, 2005 2:41 PM

Norm - I agree, I live in a small town, and it had two cameras installed followed by another a few years later. These were mainly to tackle anti-social behaviour in the main town areas. They have worked completely. Now, the problem has only been shifted to a different area, but still the main areas of town are no longer intimidating for those who don't like walking past large gangs of youth’s drunk or on drugs.

Why anyone would want to bomb a sleepy little English town I don't know, but were it to happen there would be systems in place to help with investigation.

These cameras were actually set up by the local Liberal Democrat councillors on request of the residents. In this case, perceived civil security for the many outweighed the perceived civil liberties worries of the few.

Steve S - "I've started a campaign handing out ski masks in my area to raise awareness of the level of surveillance the neighborhood's under."

Anyone suggested you might be paranoid?

AFMay 18, 2005 12:31 AM

The Wired story was well done. It was pretty neutral and ended with some anecdotes of Chicagoans who are more hesitant to walk around on the sidewalks because they simply feel creepy with cameras all around.

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.05/...

I imagine that creepiness would wear off after a while.

AnonymousMay 18, 2005 5:34 AM

@TimTheEnchanter

Sorry Tim you can not request to see the footage as "It's against the Human rights" of the other people in the camera view...

I know this from bitter experiance. I once locked my push bike under a fixed camera at a railway station. When I returned the only thing left was the chain that had been cut through. I knew the station master quite well and he showed me the footage and low and behold a clearly recognisable person was visable (no cap or hood facial features nice and clear).

I reported the crime to the local police who passed it over to the the "British Transport Police". They said that an officer had looked at the video and could not see an offender... I was very supprised and spoke to the Station master who told me that nobody had been down to see it (he had put it in his desk draw for safe keeping). I asked him how I got a copy he said I would have to write to the Train Operator and request it.

I got my solicitor to send the letter, the station master told me shortly after that that the tape had been taken away.

A little while later the train operator sent a letter with the quote about human rights and that the police had fully investigated, and that unfortunatly on their investigation the tape had been re-used so did not exist any more.

Clive RobinsonMay 18, 2005 8:42 AM

Question,

When their share of the $2billion runs out, how do you think the operating costs of the cameras and there future expansion are going to be funded...

For some reason the UK and US Governments want universal surveillance (but they want local/state government to do the dirty work for them).

They also want positive identification of individuals via biometric ID cards, which they want the individual to pay for either directly as an ID card or indirectly as a Passport or Driving Licence.

If you think about the costs involved and the very doubtful benifit with regards to crime and terorisum it either has to be gross stupidity or for another reason.

I am betting (as I have said befor) that it is to do with money/taxation, either directly or through the back door (any other idea does not appear to have as much creadence but time will tell).

My reasons for saying the above well, in the UK we have had to live with cameras on the streets since the Thatcher years when it was for security against repeated terorist attacks in London by the Provisional IRA and others. If I remember correctly only once did it actuall help in catching terorists.

I live in a suburban area and cannot walk from my front door to my local town center three miles away without being continously observed. The lens systems on some of the newer cameras are capable of producing a full face view from over 200meters (650ft) away in very low light. They can also read car registration plates easily at similar distances at a rate grater than 10 a second.

Do I feel any safer on my local streets for all these cameras?

Not at all in fact I feel less secure why,

This surveillance has not in any way stopped the local crime figures rising above the national average (as far as I can tell this is true of all areas in the UK where camera surveillance has been in place for more than a year).

At the same time as the cameras have gone up the youth culture has turned to BaseBall caps, hooded jackets, large "gangster" style wrap around sun glasses and large shapless cloathing.

This so effectivly hides a persons identity that even face to face at a couple of feet you would not be able to reliably recognise the person underneath.

Also a gang culture has developed where the members all wear similar cloathing, and will frequently swap jackets, caps and glasses around amongst themselves whilst walking around the streets.

Most of these gangs find it amusing to try and intimidate people by blocking walkways forcing other pedestrians into a confrontation or the danger of walking in the road. In some areas (Ealing) gangs will "steam" into shops and attack the security gaurds, before stealing small quantities of cloathing or other items. THis appears not to be motivated by gain but "For the fun of it" or to get standing within the gang. Likewise the practice of "cutting" appears to be for status, and the ultimate "respect" appears to be for carrying a gun.

Has this surveillance curbed these trends, no it actually appears to be encoraging it. When gang members are arrested it is not the video tapes or other surveillance that convicts them. It's the old fashioned detective work by the policemen on the ground just about every time.

This is why most people I know are asking not for more surveillance but more police on the streets.

ID cards are fairly universal in Europe however I know of no example of a national ID card catching terorists, in fact the oposit appears to be true.

Likewise an ID card does not appear to hinder crime in any way, infact due to the stupidity of others (banks and shops primarily) it appears to make it easier. Crimes involving ID failier appear to be the same or higher in European countries with ID cards than those that don't have them.

In the UK the National ID card has been looking for a purpose to exist for quite some time,

Originally it was going to be an "unemployment benift" card. Supposedly it would reduce fraudulant claims by individuals. However for most individuals commiting benifit fraud it is by "working on the side" for "cash in hand" a National ID card is not going to stop this practice at all (even with other changes in UK laws).

The real benifit fraud that realy costs the Government money in the UK is not carried out by individuals but by highly organised crime gangs for whom fake ID cards is not really going to be an issue.

The second large area is by landlords continuing (falsly) to claim housing benifit for people who have moved on, again an ID card is not realy going to stop this practice.

The only area an ID card would work to reduce benifit fraud is to prevent double claiming. The incidence of double claiming by individuals is so low that it is negligable and they are usually quickly caught any way, so an ID card is not going to make much difference.

When people started to point this out the UK ID card was then supposed to be used to get other benifits such as medical care to prevent "Medical Tourists" from other countries getting free treatment. Again I am not sure that the saving made by an ID card are realy going to be significant when balenced by the costs of the systems to check ID and collect the revinue from non-residents. The exception might be in child birth but in the EU you are allowed the freedom of movment so it would be difficult to stop.

Then due to the mess the UK Government has made of the photo drivers licences it has now been propossed as a driving licence as well...

Recently the US pressing for bio-metric Passports after 9/11 have given the exuse to make the National ID Cards "high tec". Apparently this will help reduce the number of fake ones in circulation...

So if surveillance systems and ID cards do not work and the overriding longterm evidence is they do not why do Governments want to invest so heavily in them?

All the non scary reasons I have heard indicate that it is financial. They range from one critic claiming it is the problem of an ageing population and the cost of pensions. Through to others who have claimed that it alows for the re-deployment of scarce resources, and the reduction in waste.

For camera surveillance systems in the UK we have recently seen laws being used to raise very large sums from motorists. This has either been via congestion charging or speed cameras (which predictably appear to have caused more dangerous driving than they have stopped). There are already proposels to increase the income from both and introduce other income raising systems such as road tolls.

What about National ID cards well, changes in EU and International money laudering laws have necesitated Banks to make positive ID checks on their customers or face large fines. The banks in the UK have complained that this will involve a very large cost to them. Guess what the National ID card was proposed as a solution to the problem, the individual is required by law to buy one, and the banks get to see it for free...

Another plausable claim has been that it is to reduce the UK Government IT costs.
In the UK most of the waste is due to,

1, Poor system specification and open ended scope.
2, Duplicate functionality in systems.
3, Incompatable systems.

If the Government could find ways to combine databases held on individuals and be easily able to index seperate databases then the savings would be very large. Also the ability to data mine to catch people cheating on taxes etc would be hugh with similar revenue creation potential.

So the answer to the question is "YOU ARE GOING TO PAY" one way or the other over and over again. This will be for no real benifit to yourself only to others such as the Government, banks and businesses that supply the systems.

TimTheEnchanterMay 20, 2005 6:59 AM

That reply to the CCTV evidence is bobbins, if there are other people on the tape, as there probably will be, they should do the equivalent of what happens in a document that has your personal data but also has some else name on it - simply obscure the other names or in this case the faces. This is a pathetic cop-out.

LizMay 23, 2005 12:08 PM

"I think I saw it on this blog quite a while back, but more lighting (mentioned by EPIC as a more effective security measure) doesn't really make you that much safer either."

There isn't any conclusive data either way, but a lot of interesting discussion on lighting and security (actual or perceived) can be found at:

http://www.darksky.org/infoshts/is051.html

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