Who Watches the Watchers?

One problem with cameras is that you can't trust the watchers not to misuse them:

Two council CCTV camera operators have been jailed for spying on a naked woman in her own home.

Mark Summerton and Kevin Judge, from Sefton Council, Merseyside, trained a street camera into the woman's flat.

[...]

The images from the camera, including the woman without her clothes on, were shown on a large plasma screen in the council's CCTV control room in November 2004, Liverpool Crown Court heard.

Over several hours, she was filmed cuddling her boyfriend before undressing, using the toilet, having a bath and watching television dressed only in a towel.

Judge Gerald Clifton told the three men: "To dismiss what was happening as laddish behaviour, something that the 21st Century apparently condones, is absurd.

"You only have to read the impact statements of the lady to realise the harrowing effect that this had on her.

"Her life has almost been ruined, her self-confidence entirely destroyed by the thought that prying male eyes have entered her flat."

Also, The Register reported on this.

Posted on January 16, 2006 at 12:00 PM • 73 Comments

Comments

Alun JonesJanuary 16, 2006 1:19 PM

So now I have to wonder - did this camera somehow manage to penetrate the coverage of curtains?

There should be an expectation of privacy in your own home, but if you don't cover the transparent material in your house, should you really expect not to be looked at?

jmcJanuary 16, 2006 1:25 PM

Alun, you live, say in the 3rd floor, and know that you cant be seen from the street below, which does give you some comfort.
Then there is a camera, intented to watch traffic. And simply because you didnt seal all the wall openings, it's okay for the guys behind the camera to peep on you? come on!
jmc

AGJanuary 16, 2006 1:32 PM

I have a real question.

If someone is watching me, listening to me, or eavesdropping on my Internet connection how far can I go to disable them?

For instance, could I use a high power laser to disable and possibly damage their camera?
Or could I plant viruses in my data connection that would infect their machine?

Here in Texas it is against the law to put a protective film on your license plate to keep cameras from taking your picture. The idea is to prevent people from using toll roads for free.
Anyone else have similar laws?

Milan IlnyckyjJanuary 16, 2006 1:35 PM

The onus of prevention absolutely should not be placed on the individual who may be unknowingly subject to such abuse. Saying "buy some curtains" completely misses the point that when governments start taking on powers of observation, such as these, it is their responsibility to ensure their legitimate and legal use. Hopefully, the story of jail time being given to these criminals will help deter others in similar positions from taking similar actions.

SeanJanuary 16, 2006 1:35 PM

@ Glauber Ribeiro

"What? Doesn't she understand that the cameras make her safer?"

Not if they are watching HER!!!!


@Alun Jones

"should you really expect not to be looked at?"

Being looked at by a neighbor is not wanted, it is quite different from being recorded by and made a spectacle of by governemnt employees!

IanJanuary 16, 2006 1:35 PM

FWIW, while I'm against the notion of putting cameras all over the place, I tend to agree with Alun. While it is certainly impolite and arguably immoral, I don't think it should be against the law to view something through an open window.

Suppose a police officer was walking down the street and happens to see a commotion, such as someone being beaten, through an open window, then barges in there to stop it. Would the conviction be thrown out because the officer had no right to be looking through the window?

B-ConJanuary 16, 2006 1:57 PM

"Who Watches the Watchers?"

The more watchers there are, the harder it is to watch all of them. Trying to find the right proportion of "first level" watchers is hard.

Too many watchers makes it difficult watch all of them, too few watchers creates a bottleneck of power.

J ThomasJanuary 16, 2006 2:09 PM

@AG
"I have a real question.

If someone is watching me, listening to me, or eavesdropping on my Internet connection how far can I go to disable them?"

The real question is how will you know, how will you get that information and from whom? Let us all know the real answer when it happens to you for real. How will you figure it out?

gregJanuary 16, 2006 2:13 PM

The problem is that its recorded. Did it get posted on the internet? Will her daugter get tesed at school cus a lot of the guys have a copy? etc.

When it just someone walking past there are none of these problems. But as stated above you really don't think that its a problem when your on the 30th floor. Its not like anyone is going to walk past your window.

But on another note (ok OT really). There have been some problems in some schools with ppl taking cell phone pics of others in changing rooms etc and posting them on the internet.

Over all some camaras really do help. They have made a big impact in some areas since everyone is to scared to be a witness to muggings etc. You don't need a witness with a camara, and this makes conviction much easier.

But like wire tapping and everything else, there needs to be checks and balances.

There is a good side to this story. The Judge gave then no quarter.

AnonymousJanuary 16, 2006 2:30 PM

>>But on another note (ok OT really). There have been some problems in some schools with ppl taking cell phone pics of others in changing rooms etc and posting them on the internet.

There was a case of a student to took a phone vid of a teacher completely losing his temper and abusing students and posting it on the net. The school's response was to discipline the student and ban cameras.

Bruce SchneierJanuary 16, 2006 2:39 PM

"Being looked at by a neighbor is not wanted, it is quite different from being recorded by and made a spectacle of by governemnt employees!"

This is a critical difference. Just because someone is "in public" does not mean that they agree to, expect, consent, or would like to be recorded.

AGJanuary 16, 2006 2:41 PM

For instance, what if I put viruses on my system for someone trying to hack into it to catch?
Could I be liable for damaging their system?

Matthew SkalaJanuary 16, 2006 2:43 PM

Students don't have privacy at school. I believe there's considerable case law supporting that. Should teachers? (Of course, I'd like to see the citations on that story, but it is at least plausible.)

Roy OwensJanuary 16, 2006 2:44 PM

Who would apply for these operator jobs except Peeping Toms?

Oh, wait ... stalkers, burglars, thieves, ....

I cannot conceive of any decent person applying for this job, or taking it if offered.

Kel-nageJanuary 16, 2006 3:07 PM

What a wonderful world we live in. Where if we want to have any privacy at all, we have to make sure all the windows are closed, curtains shut, blinds drawn. Just to make sure people aren't videoing you getting (un)dressed.

Fact: they broke the law. Fact: she didn't. Don't try to defend the criminals and assert the victim was to blame.

Rainer OtsJanuary 16, 2006 3:18 PM

Citing the original story:
"A Sefton Council spokesman said safeguards already in place meant the culprits were "caught and dismissed by us promptly"."
I wonder what were those "safeguards" ?
Some sort of software ability to log when operators view something for a very long time ?
If there are some safeguards, then why not put in the best safeguard IMHO and configure the cameras so, that they couldn't be turned/zoomed all the way in, in some directions.

Btw, it would be interesting to know, if the woman even knew about this particular camera, and it's exact position.
In my opinion this should be VERY public knowledge, with everyone in community notified when their privacy could be threatened by addition of a new camera with capabilities of viewing inside their window.

yodatJanuary 16, 2006 3:35 PM

>>here was a case of a student to took a phone vid of a teacher completely losing his temper and abusing students and posting it on the net. The school's response was to discipline the student and ban cameras.<<

There have also been cases of burglers breaking into houses, being injured in the attempt and successfully sueing the home owner for damages.

So what's my point? I'm not sure I have one other than, the majority of people have the government they want, if they didn't they would do something about it.

Its said that "The meek shall inherit the earth." but I suspect it will be under the watchfull eye of a suspicious government and if you're really unlucky, posted on the internet.

Chris WalshJanuary 16, 2006 3:39 PM

@Bruce:

IANAL, but if a person is in public it seems to me that they have no leg to stand on if I as a private citizen come along and film them. Consider, as an example, the so-called paparazzi. Obviously, if the person is in their own home things may be different.

Perhaps in this case, they knew their immediate neighbors were away, and that their street was generally quiet. Thus, even without the curtains closed they may have sensibly believed that their probability of being seen was miminal. Now, we all know that someone at a great distance could have had a telescope trained on them and perhaps that shouldn't be permitted (this is where it gets fuzzy for me), however when the person is not a private citizen training his own telescope, but is instead an agent of the government training a government camera when that camera and its operator ought to be looking for real crime, then I dare say that that fuzziness is gone and it becomes rather clear that a wrong has been committed.

mozJanuary 16, 2006 3:40 PM

@ Alun Jones

There are many ways; infrared, small gaps in improperly closed curtains; putting the camera inside the room; waiting till the person forgets. Another way is chosing people, like children, and the underly paranoid, who aren't fully able to defend themselves all the time. Almost nothing you do, will fully protect you from some method of passive spying if the spy is determined enough and waits long enough.

If we have a requirement that everybody guards their privacy perfectly, otherwise they are fair game, then our society becomes completely awful. The only way to deal with this is strong privacy laws including long jail sentences for those involved in negligently installing spying devices which can be easily misused.

CMJanuary 16, 2006 3:43 PM

CCTV's effectiveness is in doubt. Great for after the event evidence gathering but the baddies are blase.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/...
Murder mugging near a tube station. Dig this gem: "The pictures from the station show two men carrying out the robbery on the platform at about 2305 GMT.

Scotland Yard said they wanted to talk to the two robbers to eliminate them from the murder inquiry."

In other words police want to eliminate 2 muggers, carrying out robberies on camera in the station, from a murder investigation. Perhaps they'll be given a nice cup of tea for their trouble.

Matthew SkalaJanuary 16, 2006 4:13 PM

Well, CM, I think I for one might prefer to turn myself in for a mugging I'm actually guilty of and for which there's obviously abundant evidence to convict, rather than be hunted down on suspicion of a murder I'm not guilty of. There are different degrees of both crime and punishment.

Rob MayfieldJanuary 16, 2006 5:18 PM

Anyone who prances around their flat in the raw with the curtains open, in the 21'st century, and expects privacy, regardless of what floor they are on or any other so-called mitigating or modifying factor, would appear to me to be ignorant, stupid or both.

Even if you think privacy is a basic right, its rather ignorant to assume others will also, especially when a few minutes of footage could "almost ruin your life". Seems like someone failed dismally in their windows risk assessment. (and we all know anything 'windows' is a huge risk, but I digress ...)

AdrianJanuary 16, 2006 5:41 PM

From my experience with security staff and video equipment I'd state that almost 100% of them use it for perving on attractive women. I have been in a control room when an officer walked in and stated "Camera x, ENE, full tilt..." camera operator had no idea whether it was a robbery in progress, a riot or... two young ladies lying on the grass in the park sunbathing with their skirts pulled up.

I've also been on the other end of it. A flat I used to live in was on the first floor, the bathroom window couldn't be seen from the street and was screened by a large tree. Due to steam I left the window open while showering, but one day I got out of the shower to see the security guard for the local shopping mall leaning over the railing on the multi-storey carpark, peering through the tree and in my window: "F*CK OFF YOU DIRTY OLD BUGGER", when screamed out the window, seems to do the trick.

I typically feel more threatened by "security" staff than protected by them.

Dom De VittoJanuary 16, 2006 6:02 PM

Great.

I'm taking Google Earth to court:
I've been ruined, my self-confidence entirely destroyed by the thought that prying eyes have entered my back garden.

Sheesh - so I can now go to court when somewhen thinks I'm looking at them in the window?

How can you have a right to privacy if you're standing in plain sight?

ThinkerJanuary 16, 2006 6:32 PM

I believe we need to establish a new social contract of digital self-ownership.

What this means is that we from our ownership of self as the most fundamental human trait derive ownership of related information as long as this can be referred to ones person.

Yes, it means that you cannot take a picture of me unless I a) have agreed or b) are in a public place where cameras are by definition "natural" - ie. a sportsevent.

Etc. on data, location etc.

Sure it require a new way of addressing these aspects, but otherwise we end up in a nightmarish society where respect for the individual has evaporated.

We cannot have selfdetermination if everyhing we do or say is accessible by anyone else outside our control.

RogerJanuary 16, 2006 7:24 PM

I am astonished at the people saying that there was no offence, or it was lessened, because the curtains were left opened [1].

Yes there was some carelessness on the part of the victim. That no more lessens the crime than forgetting to lock up makes it OK to steal.

By the way, this sort of voyeurism is, and for a long time has been, a crime under British law, (the current legislation is
http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2003/...
) and it is irrelevant whether it is conducted by CCTV, binoculars, or walking down the street.

Having said that:
"Who Watches the Watchers?"
It is clear that it is possible to abuse CCTV cameras and so there should be safeguards on their usage. But somebody WAS "watching the watchers". The persons who did this were detected, convicted, and received sentences of 4 months and 2 imprisonment. The principle instigator (who received the 4 months sentence) is also now officially and permanently registered as a sexual pervert. A third person who was aware of what was going on and failed to report it, received a sentence of 200 hours community service and was dismissed from his job.

____
1. As a minor aside, I was also a little surprised they were able to watch the victim in the bathroom and lavatory. Do British bathrooms and lavatories not have frosted glass windows?

jammitJanuary 16, 2006 7:40 PM

This is a short one:
Naked lady aside, the watchers weren't doing their job. They were improperly using equipment and should be canned/fined for not doing their job. The fact they were peeping is a separate crime.

TkilJanuary 16, 2006 7:43 PM

One interesting answer is the one given by David Brin in his book The Transparent Society: everyone gets to watch everyone else.

It's already true that poor / powerless have no way to stop being observed; the only people who are truly above being watched are the very very powerful. If you just accept that cameras (and GPS sensors and license plate cameras and FastTrak/SmartTag sensors etc) are everywhere, then trying to outwit all of them as an individual is hopeless.

On the other hand, look what always-on cameras in police cars have done to reduce police abuse (or to absolve innocent officers). If every car had a GPS sensor (for road taxing, of course!), then just state that (1) everyone can see everyone else's records, and (2) politicians and policemen get their cars tagged first.

Who watches the watchers? Should be everybody.

Roy OwensJanuary 16, 2006 8:20 PM

Tkil raises the point that "the poor / powerless have no way to stop being observed".

Does anyone know where such a surveillance system is set up in a rich neighborhood?

I suspect rich people would not tolerate surveillance that they weren't in control of.

billswiftJanuary 16, 2006 8:40 PM

Another point Brin made in Transparent Society is that cameras are getting smaller (more concealable), cheaper (in more hands), better (longer ranged), and will eventually become mobile and tiny. While easy to control now, what happens when an average teenager can by a mobile camera the size of a wasp?

JYLJanuary 16, 2006 9:19 PM

Lately, the technology used by government agencies open the door for many form of abuse. This is a CCTV camera in this case but can also be huge database such as the "Police Internal Database", "secret service files", Hospital patient files, etc.

Many of these Services/Databases are ruled by comprehensive "access Policy" that forbid there used for "personal interest". In some cases, there is even a law that forbids it. However, the chance of being discovered is slim at best. Furthermore, the likelihood of being reported is even slimmer.

Now, what stun me the most is that very often, the Law itself will protect the peoples that abuse of them? For example, a cop that abuses the “Police registry��? might only get a slap on it finger by the “deontology group��?. The victim has about no recourse in these cases.

I believe that it is about time for a Law that will make it a criminal felony for many Government employees to abuse of these. Say, using the “Police database, CCTV equipment��? for unlawful purpose is good for a minimum of 3 months jail time.

The house or apartment of someone is private property with curtain or not. A court ordered mandate should be required at all time to investigate it. (period).

ChrisInCOJanuary 16, 2006 10:57 PM

By no means should these men be defended. Their behavior is a disgrace and they should be punished for the egregious abuse of authority and governmental resources that have done. These incidents only increase suspicion of this sort of governmental program, to the detriment of all. In fact, this sort of thing only makes others believe the government will ALWAYS abuse any surveillance powers/capabilities it has, an unfortunate but always pervasive myth, IMHO.

However, I believe the point being made by many of those appearing to defend those men is, take your own due care and protect yourself. How many of you would connect your unpatched system directly to the Internet without a firewall? How many of you privacy fanatics send any seriously personal e-mail (or any e-mail, for that matter) without encrypting it? How many of you throw away old hard drives without securely wiping them?

And how many of you prance around in the nude in front of the windows of your home, and expect no one to look at you, regardless of who it is?

Everyone who reads this list knows how to protect themselves, else we probably wouldn't be reading Mr. Schneier's stuff at all (more likely, we wouldn't even know who he is). This story is a miniature, consumer-oriented version of what those of us in infosec already try to do every day; protect the naive, uneducated, and/or careless from the harsh reality that is our world. Sure, in an ideal world, she'd be able to walk around nude and no one would watch, even if they noticed what she's doing. And in an ideal world, government staff always do their job without these sorts of shenanigans.

YaytayJanuary 17, 2006 12:05 AM

Just in case anyone has questions about the logistics of this, I had a CCTV camera put up right opposite my first floor window (and for those not English, that's the second floor, and in my case there were steps up to the ground floor so it's even higher).
No, there was no frosted glass on my bathroom window. There was no need, until the camera went up my windows faced a flood plain.
I would certainly not worry about curtains in the bedroom before the camera went up, afterwards it became a necessity.

Now the question is: was it worth it?
The camera did seem to reduce the level of mindless violence outside the house (we were on the route home from a nightclub, wing mirrors were considered fair game and occasionally whole cars got torched).
Sitting here now, 5000 miles away, I'd rather have had the privacy.

TrevorJanuary 17, 2006 1:12 AM

The lady sounds way more fragile than she should be. Your life devestated over a Peeping Tom is idiotic.

But that doesn't take away from the wrongness of using an "official" spying device for voyeurism.

And it certainly rams home the point that underneath their cheap suits and shiny badges, government is just a bunch of horny individuals who sometimes abuse their authority. Checks and balances are a good thing, and these guys should be barred from public "service" for their remaining time on earth.

DeathwindJanuary 17, 2006 2:48 AM

This example is loathsome to me as it should be to anybody. My first reaction is to think and feel putting cameras all over the place is not a good idea.

But then reason sets in and this news must be studied cool headed. As Bruce Schneier often says, security is a tradeoff.

The real question is not whether these cameras will be badly used by some perverts because they will for sure.

The question is whether the cost (having perverts invading other people's privacy) is worth the security benefit.

They are two factors :
A) how often will the cameras be badly used ?
B) how often will they be useful ?

If A > B then obviously, it's not worth it. if B > A maybe our society should learn to bear with the inevitable abuse.

The problem with this piece of news is that it doesn't give us any global viewpoint, it just takes one abuse and puts it into the central stage.

It's not really possible to make an reasoned choice with this news as it is just one example.

I for one tend to feel that it's not worth it. The loss of privacy is too great in my estimation compared to the benefits. But that's just my personal opinion based on my history and experience.

This example strengthens my belief in this but I know that it does not constitue a decisive argument against those that defend wholesale camera surveillance.

Because if you mention this argument, one partisan of camera surveillance will just wave it away saying it's just one fluke and that the majority of the use is good.

If we went to win the war against this creeping surveillance thing, we need general facts proving that camera surveillance is not really useful and that it is massively used badly.

StaminaJanuary 17, 2006 3:54 AM

For those interested, this activity is not only covered by UK voyeurism law, but is also a breach of RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act).

Surveillance of a residential premises is considered intrusive surveillance and requires a warrant (limited to law enforcement).

Even if she had not been in a residential premises and had been fully clothed, the CCTV operators are supposed to have good reason for following or focusing on an individual as it becomes directed surveillance, for which special authorisation is required.

BaldyJanuary 17, 2006 6:42 AM

@J. Alex urbanowicz

Because she lives in a flat. Also, it's quite common in the UK for a people not to bother with the full curtains all the time, because they want to see out. Quite often people use net curtains instead, which stops the casual observer from seeing in. but still allows those inside to look out the window.

A person using net-curtains has a reasonable expectation of privacy, because it requires some-one to be close up, or to be using a zoom lens on a CCTV camera, to be able to see through the curtains. Especially if that person is living in a flat above a street.

It may be worth noting that you cannot be convicted of the sexual offence of voyeurism if the victim did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy - even in your own home. (IANAL etc).

Ed T.January 17, 2006 7:36 AM

@Alun Jones,

When I lived in Holland (ca. 1966), we followed the common practice (in the USA) of closing the curtains one night -- and within minutes people were knocking at the door, asking what was wrong. It turns out that closed curtains were a distress signal there.

Maybe that explains why she didn't close them.

-EdT.

MikeJanuary 17, 2006 8:10 AM

@Kel-nage "What a wonderful world we live in. Where if we want to have any privacy at all, we have to make sure all the windows are closed, curtains shut, blinds drawn. Just to make sure people aren't videoing you getting (un)dressed.

Errr ... yes. And?

"Fact: they broke the law. Fact: she didn't. Don't try to defend the criminals and assert the victim was to blame."

Indeed they did break the law, and I'm by no means defending their actions or pinning all the blame on her.

What they did was wrong, but all I'm saying is that if she didn't want people looking in, then she shouldn't have left the blinds open.

It's that simple.

TrifleJanuary 17, 2006 9:46 AM

This discussion is really funny, especially the part on whether or not "she" should be closing her curtains.

There are many places (in particular in large cities) where you can't be seen from the street, you don't have any neighbors across the street, but there is a light pole in sight. If you don't identify the CCTV camera on that pole as something that may watch on you, it is perfectly natural to keep the curtains open and beenfit from your panoramic sea view.

The funny thing is that someone mentioned that the readers of this list are security aware. Hoever, it seems that some of them did not read Bruce's books, and still have a tendency to generalize things heavily: "If I can be seen from a CCTV camera, I must also be visible from everybody else".

Well, it does not work that way, or at least not necessarily ... Security experts should know not to generalize from cases they don't really know.

ProbitasJanuary 17, 2006 10:13 AM

@ Kel-nage. "What a wonderful world we live in. Where if we want to have any privacy at all, we have to make sure all the windows are closed, curtains shut, blinds drawn. Just to make sure people aren't videoing you getting (un)dressed."

The world would be more wonderful still, if only it were all that black and white. To say that the victim could have closed the curtians is not to excuse the "guards" from being appropriately punished for their crimes. It does, however, take a bit of the wind out of her sials in the victim impact statement. If the absulute certainty that you cannot be observed is that important to you, I would argue that you do indeed have some obligation to prevent casual observation. I have seen differing reports of which floor she lived on, but I will assume that if the cameras trained on her flat were also trained on the ground, then it probably wasn't on a very high floor. That being the case, a reasonable person should not be excused from taking reasonable measures to protect their privacy, given the fact that while the electronic aspects may be new, the concept of peeping toms is not.

If I leave my door open, it cartainly is not granting permission for you to steal my belongings. It does, however, take away my right not to be called a bit foolish for having left the door open.

Alun JonesJanuary 17, 2006 10:34 AM

Point taken - looking at a satellite view of Sefton - http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?... - it's possible that the lady in question had no possibility of peepers prior to installation of the camera.

I moved into my current house, and was appalled to find that we had several large windows, and although the window coverings had been left in place by the previous owners, there was nothing remotely like a curtain in the entire house. Presumably the prior occupants were content to restrict private activities to the back bedroom.

In case anyone misunderstood me (and it sounds like a few of you did), I'm not remotely suggesting that the council employees were correct in their activities - as noted, they weren't doing their job, and there are laws against peering through even open windows, with or without cameras.

I'm not even arguing that individuals are responsible for enacting sufficient security as to prevent the most dedicated of invader.

Having said that, though, curtains are such a normal part of everyday privacy that I find it odd that anyone would be unwilling to operate them.

derfJanuary 17, 2006 2:49 PM

A laser sight style red dot would alert everyone to the camera and what it was watching. It would also be obvious if some moronic camera operator decided to browse your apartment.

Pat CahalanJanuary 17, 2006 3:44 PM

Jumpin' catfish.

There are times when I run from the shower to the closet partially dressed without checking to see if every window in the house is draped.

This is a huge invasion of privacy. People can take a risk and move around their house with a small expectation that someone *may* catch a quick peek of bare skin, without wanting people to take pictures or video and publish that material in public.

Arguing that the victim is in any way culpable is following the same logical process of, "You shouldn't have been walking in that neighborhood and you wouldn't have been mugged."

Sure, people can take more/better steps to improve their own security and privacy, but a failure to do so doesn't make violating their security or privacy any less a crime.

fern potJanuary 17, 2006 4:49 PM

@Rob Mayfield

Several posts (including yours) in this discussion reflect the classical blame the victim mentality. It is easier to think from the offenders' point of view than from the victim's. It would be too painful to enter into the victim's thoughts, so people instead start to think how easy it was to commit the crime (so the victim must be stupid), how the victim reacted too strongly etc. The next step is to belittle the offence. This kind of behaviour has been well covered in psychological textbooks. So get over it.

I still have to comment the foolishness. If someone would stand for hours in the street and stare at your window, you would definitely notice it sooner or later, unless you were asleep. Or then some passer-by would notice it. The camera was directed at the window for hours (not for a few minutes like RM wrote), but only few people look where CCTV cameras are directed. And the cameras are nowadays so small that it is difficult to estimate the camera angle unless you are very close to it.

Rob MayfieldJanuary 17, 2006 5:10 PM

@fern pot - "Several posts (including yours) in this discussion reflect the classical blame the victim mentality."

My comment reflected my observation of the reality of privacy in today's world, or more correctly the almost complete lack thereof, and people's blind belief that it still exists when it so clearly and demonstrably does not. That said, your assertion that I 'blame' the victim is an assumption on your part, and nothing more.

Davi OttenheimerJanuary 17, 2006 5:59 PM

@ Deathwind

Aside from the odd name, you are spot on the money. The problem here is that a "priviledged" level of access was abused. This shows that risk comes from all angles -- just because you put on a funny hat and wear a badge does not mean you are somehow instantly transformed above the need for checks and balances, or excluded from the code of acceptable behavior for a public servant.

Surveillance systems are a powerful tool, just like any tool, that can be used for good or bad. The solution should be to require controls be in place to prevent/detect abuse. This is not much different than requiring controls around other powerful tools that law enforcement officers sometimes have access to...you can trust, but you must verify, etc.

Davi OttenheimerJanuary 17, 2006 6:12 PM

"if you don't cover the transparent material in your house, should you really expect not to be looked at?"

In a recent Canada case a man was charged with performing indecent acts inside his home -- his neighbors reported him because they could guess what he was doing even though they couldn't see the act.

So, it gets more complicated that just whether you are doing illegal/offensive things in your home behind transparent material. Even if you assume a right to privacy, do you implicate yourself when doing something illegal/offensive? And just to complicate things further, what happens when law enforcement is privileged enough to use x-ray scanners to monitor through opaque material?

http://davi.poetry.org/blog/?p=193

Davi OttenheimerJanuary 17, 2006 6:15 PM

Here's the link to the Canada case (sorry for the typos above; was a bit rushed):

http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/...

The case centred on whether a private space -- Daryl Clark's living room -- became public because others could view it. The high court said No in a unanimous ruling Thursday. "The living room of his private home was not a place 'to which the public (had) access as of right or by invitation, express or implied,' " Justice Morris Fish wrote, quoting the Criminal Code.

Jason T. MillerJanuary 17, 2006 9:42 PM

>> So what's my point? I'm not sure I have one other than, the majority of people have the government they want, if they didn't they would do something about it.

That does not follow. I wish it did.

Pat CahalanJanuary 17, 2006 9:50 PM

@ Probitas

> If I leave my door open, it cartainly is not granting permission for you
> to steal my belongings. It does, however, take away my right not to be called
> a bit foolish for having left the door open.

That depends on where you live. I know many places where people still don't bother to lock their doors... why? Because there hasn't been any B&E in their community for decades, and it's a pain in the rear to lock your keys in your house.

What one person may regard as "reasonable steps" is very individual, and what one society may have as a generally accepted baseline might be completely different from another's.

The fact that we all post on this blog means we're probably more paranoid than the average Joe, although we may not be as paranoid as we ought to be...

Pat CahalanJanuary 17, 2006 10:18 PM

@ Davi, Deathwind

> The question is whether the cost (having perverts invading other people's
> privacy) is worth the security benefit.
>
> They are two factors :
> A) how often will the cameras be badly used ?
> B) how often will they be useful ?

Although generally I approve of cost/benefit analysis when it comes to security issues, a strictly utilitarian analysis breaks down when you're talking about social issues, ethics, privacy, etc. - the scope of the discussion moves outside of the basic security issues.

The violations of this sort of security can't be measured using the same sort of quantifiable metrics as the postive effects -> if security cameras lead to a 80% reduction in overall crime, but a 70% increase in abuse claims, how do you analyze the cost/benefit?

There is, IMO, a default level of confidence in "the watchers" that needs to be present. If people don't trust their law enforcement to some degree, they're living in a psychological police state, whether or not they're suffering any actual abuse. I think it's much more important for a stable society that people have some trust in the cops than you cut the crime rate by n%.

ZaphodJanuary 18, 2006 1:04 AM

@fern pot

Most CCTV cameras in the UK are contained in dark hemispherical domes. You cannot see where they are pointing easily. In fact with the naked eye it is almost impossible.

With suitable optics one can normally discern the camera within. Normally they while away the hours rotating on a preprogrammed 'path', until directed by an operative to track some hot chick.

Zaphod.

HeinerJanuary 18, 2006 1:45 AM

This whole discussion reminds me of the movie "Blue Thunder" in which a surveillance helicopter is (mis)used to spy on a stripping lady in a skyscraper. The movie is from 1983 and gives the impression that this "pastime fun" is absolutely normal for the observers. Are people prepared for being watched by the authorities by such movies?
Excuse my bad english. Heiner

DeathwindJanuary 18, 2006 3:44 AM

@ Pat Calahan

> Although generally I approve of cost/benefit analysis when it comes to security issues, a strictly utilitarian analysis breaks >down when you're talking about social issues, ethics, privacy, etc. - the scope of the discussion moves outside of the basic >security issues.

IMVHO, I think it still applies. Security is often, a tradeoff between more security and civil liberties. It's exactly the same thing as concerning the more careful searches in airplanes and the confiscation of innoncent objects like scissors or nail clippers.

>The violations of this sort of security can't be measured using the same sort of quantifiable metrics as the postive effects > -> if security cameras lead to a 80% reduction in overall crime, but a 70% increase in abuse claims, how do you analyze the > cost/benefit?

Actually it's quite simple. You tell people : ok folks, the cameras reduce crime by 80% but you have 70% more chances of being observed by a pervert cam operator. What do YOU choose ?

That's what democracy is about letting people choose. It then all depends on the people's utility curves and preferences.

The only catch with this is that the decision to put on the cameras is often not decided by the people but by their representatives. And these people may have a different utility curve : their temptation might be to put cameras on not because it's actuallu useful but because it serves their political purpose.

>There is, IMO, a default level of confidence in "the watchers" that needs to be present. If people don't trust their law >enforcement to some degree, they're living in a psychological police state, whether or not they're suffering any actual >abuse. I think it's much more important for a stable society that people have some trust in the cops than you cut the crime >rate by n%.

I tend to agree with you. But as said before, we live in democracies. Your opinion and my opinion is not sufficient. It's the collective opinion that is important. And maybe the collective opinion is ok with risking privacy abuse if crime is cut down.

Maybe the collective opinion is ok for the wrong reasons, maybe it falls for the illusion of security that politicians like to conjure up so that it seems they're doing something.

But in that case, we must have hard general evidence that it's actually not worth it. Our opinions are not sufficient.

funkyjJanuary 18, 2006 2:10 PM

Make all the cameras public web cams.

Sure, this will allow "bad guys" to determine what the cameras can and can not see but the point of the cameras are not to catch 'professor Moriarty' but instead to catch and deter the "stupid" criminals (as we should know by now, the "smart" criminals wear white collar shirts, not blue collars).

With a "public surveillance" policy the issue of privacy invasion as described in the article would quickly work it self out in a year or two. Since the camera data is public people who don't want to be seen naked in their house would have more motivation to see that it doesn't occur. They could either spend their own time researching the issue (e.g. viewing all nearby cameras) or hire a private firm to perform a "privacy audit".

On the positive side of the equation, the cameras become a tool for souveillance. Sure, the NSA/FBI (or MI5/MI6) and even undercover police will always need to have secret surveillance methods but there is no good reason why these other camera's shouldn't be public.

Davi OttenheimerJanuary 19, 2006 12:03 PM

"Normally they while away the hours rotating on a preprogrammed 'path', until directed by an operative to track some hot chick."

That's the old tech. Now they are motion/light sensitive and can start/stop recording and track automatically. Saves an incredible amount of storage and also turns cameras into just one input for an event driven database.

RvnPhnxJanuary 20, 2006 3:45 PM

I've noticed one thing--something which most people seem to have ignored. It was made reasonably clear that the time of the "invasion" was in the evening. With the lights down low (or off), in a quiet neighborhood on anything other than the darkest of nights one would expect an outsider to have some difficulty seeing in their windows.
This is an observation which comes from experience living in that kind of neighborhood. It is also a common practice in some places to only cover the bottom half of the window with a privacy treatment (curtain) of some sort. Since the windows are usually above street level this works just fine to keep the peepers away--yet it also lets light in during the day.
So, I think that people should think a little bit harder about how little of a barrier we expect to protect our privacy, and about how private we really expect our lives to be. Then we need to think about what others may want to do (for whatever reason) to change that. It sounds to me like this individual, like most people, had a decent expectation of privacy before the cameras came.

AdamJanuary 25, 2006 9:04 AM

This idea is crazy. Come up with a better one:

Technical issues aside, the only way I see to deal with the "cameras everywhere" phenomenon is "everybody watches".

Certainly, as it gets less and less expensive to install them and as these devices become smaller and smaller it will be impossible to prevent it from happening. The only thing to do would be to reverse tack, and put them *everywhere* with unlimited access for everyone. This is the only situation that will put everybody on equal footing, and even it is fraught with peril.

Currently, we must be careful to record only those places where it's "okay". But that isn't going to work well. If you know that there are no cameras in the children's restroom, then that's where you're going to go to avoid them - anybody who works in retail has observed this. So if cameras are going to act as a witness and therefore a deterrent, then they must be everywhere.

The current way these things are being done is be the monitoring of cameras by "police" or "camera monitors" or some secretive, closed group. The idea is that since what the cameras see may be sensitive, then we must be careful about who sees it because of privacy. But these groups, too, must be observed, since they are in a position of unique power, and the best people to observe them are the objects of this first observation. "Who shall watch the watchers? The watched."

The examples touted are often "pedophiles spying on kids" and "men looking at women" (and often this is cover for "people watching me do things that I am accustomed to that are against the law", we'll get to this). The problem, though, isn't with *watching*, it's the follow-on actions. If everybody is constantly recorded and the records preserved, then if the person watching the children decides to approach them, then this act is recorded, too. Also, everybody watching is also recorded, and this is preserved.

Access to this repository must be universal. The issue is politcal, at that point, balancing the interests of the video stewards so that there are enough of them that redundancy will be preserved and that they are diverse enough that byzantine action is unlikely.

DLCFebruary 6, 2006 11:55 AM

You ask, "if you don't cover the transparent material in your house, should you really expect not to be looked at?"

Yes!! Especially when I have taken other precautions to protect my privacy. Even if a take absolutely zero precautions, I still should not have a government employee, using government equipment, to view and record the non-criminal conduct within my home and then replaying the tape for other government employees.

Some precautions that might not include sealing the windows:

building a privacy wall or shrubbery that blocks the view from the street (but not a government camera mounted on the rooftop of a building a block away)

using shutters that prevents pedestrians on the street from seeing up into my room, (but does not prevent a government camera mounted atop a utility pole from filming down)

buying a home with a bedroom in back that cannot be seen from any possible angle where a person might be (but can be seen from certain camera angles down the street)

buying a home with a bedroom in back that cannot be seen by the human eye (but can be seen with a zoom lens)

buying a home that makes it perfectly obvious when a 6ft man is looking in my window (but might not be as clear when an elevated camera housed in a tinted dome is pointed at me)

===================
Having worked in a company with such a CCTV control room, I can tell you from personal observation, that cameras are used and abused all the time for all sorts of reasons by all sorts of people - rarely if ever were they used for the advertised purpose that allowed the camera to be installed. An elaborate CCTV system also involves a lot of components that do not always work (camera, lens, cable, housing, lighting, Tx/Rx, monitor, recorder, operator, etc) and yet the company would insist all was well when they were completely blind.

However, since the company and camera operators are the ones who control the flow of information related to camera use/function -- it is virtually impossible to get accurate data without the help of a whistleblower or disgruntled employee. Success it exaggerated and touted loudly, while failure and scandal is minimized and concealed.
========
While the live video feed on a government security camera may be delayed to protect operational security or active investigations, I feel all recorded images should be subject to public scrutiny upon request. All camera operators should require individual login and CCTV monitoring (a camera to record the cameraman) Traffic cameras should not have a delay and allow for public monitoring/webcast

AlkaFebruary 18, 2006 10:18 AM

I keep my blinds open as I live in a high flat and there are no flats facing me within seeing distance, unless they use binoculars or a camera with a zoom function. There's CCTV around, but it's not facing my flat, and if it was, the operator would have to zoom in to see anything interesting. Because no-one can ordinarily (ie without binoculars or without using a camera's zoom function), it's completely pointless to close my blinds every time I get undressed just because some perv might be using binoculars or a zoom lens to see me. Not closing blinds or curtains doesn't equate to wanting to be perved on, unless it's obvious that plenty of people will be able to see you (for example if you live on the ground floor of a house on a busy street). Sometimes I have friends round and they don't close the door properly when they go to the loo if they're just doing a "number one" - ordinarily I wouldn't be able to see them, which is why there's no need to mess about closing and locking and later unlocking and fully opening the door just for such a quick thing... BUT if I delieberately peeked my head round the door, I would be perving on them, because they didn't expect me to do that, just as I wouldn't expect someone to get out a pair of binoculars OR zoom in on my flat to invade my privacy.

jennyNovember 8, 2006 8:27 AM

is there any laws regradeing the use of cctv my neibour had his camera faceing my way on my whole garden and not on his. im worried due to the fact i have 3 young girls. i saw him today and asked him why? he said he turned it my way to see over my back fence yet it was covering my backdoor and all my garden he has moved it more to his side i can still be seen but this worries me has its connected to his computer and my youngest child has played in a paddling pool and has took her clothes off so is in the nude i find this wrong that people can cover other peoples garden please is there a law to stop this

Daniel C. BoyerNovember 12, 2006 3:15 PM

I was just wondering how the transparent film outlawed in Texas worked? It seems confusing.

hamJune 20, 2007 5:14 PM

I'm a camera operator in Liverpool and the zoom on these things can be pretty serious. If you're on the third floor of a building there's a good chance that a camera from half a mile away can see into your window. Look out of your window. Can you see a lamp-post half a mile away? Is it a lamp-post or a camera? Are you sure?

ronaldDecember 10, 2008 12:46 AM

its againts the law to be naked in front of an open window as well as its againts the law to video someone on there property. as long as its in a public place it not againt the law. but please shut your windowa nd curtains

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..