The Double-Edged Sword That is Video Surveillance

Video cameras are everywhere. Pay a visit to your local big-box department store and you can bet that video cameras will be watching your every move. Your car was probably spotted by multiple cameras on your way to the store. When you stop to get gas on the way home, there may be a camera at the gas station. You might even have cameras in your own home.

Wireless technology has made video surveillance so easy that just about everyone is doing it to some degree. Is that good or bad? Actually, it is both. Video surveillance is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways. Each of us must decide for ourselves how much of it we want in our lives.

Video Surveillance at Home

Wireless video cameras have really taken off as a home security feature. Consumers have come to understand that a few well-placed cameras can provide good views of the front door, the family room, the garage, and so on. Families have been known to use their video cameras to keep track of the babysitter or watch contractors as they work in the home.

Video doorbells are another hot product. According to vivint.com, video doorbell is one of the hottest consumer products for protecting against porch piracy. Some homeowners combine video doorbells with smart locks to provide access to their homes without having to give family or friends physical keys.

Source:vivint.com

All of this is good for the most part. Home surveillance allows us to keep track of our homes even when we are away. Whether at work or on vacation in a faraway land, all it takes to bring up video camera views is an internet connection and a smartphone app.

Video Can Catch Criminals

Another very good aspect to video surveillance is its effectiveness and catching criminals. For example, the San Antonio Police Department arrested a man in mid-May and charged him with burglarizing a storage facility one month prior. They successfully identified him using footage captured by on-site security cameras.

In addition to identifying him, the cameras also showed him pulling off the actual crime. He could be seen in the footage breaking locks and carrying duffel bags full of items away.

The San Antonio police joins nearly every other police agency around the country in using video as an investigative tool. Moreover, footage doesn’t have to come from the actual scene of the crime to be helpful. Police agencies sometimes use surveillance video from multiple locations to piece together events occurring prior to, and after, the crime being investigated.

Again, these are all good things. Video surveillance used appropriately can help authorities catch criminals and win convictions. As such, they can be a deterrent to crime as well.

Intrusions into Our Privacy

With two positives acknowledged, let us look at the other edge of the sword. Prolific video surveillance immediately brings to mind concerns over intrusions into our privacy. This post began with an explanation of how such intrusion occurs. No matter where one goes these days there are video surveillance cameras keeping an eye on things.

Source:kosovoprojekt.rs

It is bad enough that red light cameras are paying attention to how we drive while store security cameras are spying on us as we shop. But it gets worse. For example, we must acknowledge that it is now possible to combine surveillance video with facial recognition software to identify people without their knowledge. What are the implications of such technology?

We will not get into issues involving government and law enforcement here. You work through them in your own mind. But imagine something as seemingly benign as social media sharing. We already know that platforms like Facebook rely on facial recognition to tag photos. Do we really want Facebook tagging our videos too?

Are any of us comfortable with retail stores following us around and recording everything we do in order to better understand our shopping habits? If they can identify us with video and facial recognition, they can build better profiles about our habits. This is not to say that such surveillance is happening, but it is certainly possible with the technology we have.

Intrusions into the Home

Things get worse when you are talking about intrusions into our homes. There have been plenty of stories of video surveillance cameras being hacked by creeps who torment homeowners and their families. Who knows how many of these creeps are just fooling around and how many pose a serious threat to personal safety?

In another story out of San Antonio, a cybersecurity expert showed KSAT News how easy it is to use the internet to access home security cameras. He explained that untold numbers of residential and commercial cameras are vulnerable because they are on unsecured networks. That doesn’t sound good, does it?

We Need a More Measured Approach

Source:cctv.rs

Video surveillance is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways. This post is not intended to convince you one way or the other on the veracity and need for video surveillance. Rather, it is simply to point out the fact that society needs to take a more measured approach to surveillance.

Every technology has its positives and negatives. No technology should be fully embraced by society without significant forethought and research. By the same token, no technology should be dismissed or rejected without making an attempt to fully understand it.

The challenge for us right now is that so many people seem to be too welcoming of video surveillance. There are too many people who have no idea they are being surveilled as they go through their daily lives. This sort of ignorance only allows bad things to happen. We all need to pay more attention. We all need to make a better effort to think things through.

In the meantime, expect the proliferation of video surveillance to continue. Every time we turn around there seems to be a new camera keeping track of our comings and goings. It is the world in which we live.


Peter is a freelance writer with more than eight years of experience covering topics in politics. He was one of the guys that were here when the foreignpolicyi.org started.

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