Lentis/Video Surveillance

From Wikibooks, open books for an open world
< Lentis
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Typical video surveillance camera

Public video surveillance commonly refers to closed-circuit television (CCTV). CCTV systems range from a simple mounted camera directly wired to a single computer screen, to smart systems with multiple cameras processing and synchronizing data from camera networks. In all systems the data is broadcast to only a private network or data source. Cameras are usually mounted in high-traffic, public areas where at least one party has security concerns.[1]


Early usage of CCTV is largely unknown. Some attribute the first CCTV use to the German Army in World War II; however, the source is unconvincing. Video surveillance was limited in public spaces until video recording technology became more prevalent in the 1970s.[2] In 1987, the first video surveillance system of a downtown area in the UK was established in King’s Lynn.[3] By the 1990s and early 2000s, video surveillance systems could be seen in most major British and American cities. Current systems in many cities, such as New York City’s Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, use extensive camera networks to transmit live video data as part of counter-terrorism initiatives.[4][5] Future systems in areas deemed at high terrorism risk may be equipped with facial recognition technology as well.[6]

State of the Art - NYC Domain Awareness System[edit]

In the summer of 2012, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the “Domain Awareness System” (DAS), New York City’s new, extensive, integrated camera network and accompanying software. Through a partnership with Microsoft, NYC has joined existing public and private surveillance cameras, license plate cameras, and radiation detectors with data from emergency 911 calls and crime reports for both crime prevention and solving.[7] The connections work both ways: for example, the software can detect suspicious activity, like an unaccompanied package, and send data to police officers, and police officers can input information of a stolen vehicle, and the system will display all locations of that vehicle within the last month.[8]

The DAS represents both the future of video surveillance and the surrounding debate. Most surveillance systems have been designed for a particular city, but Microsoft has begun marketing the DAS to other locations.[9] While New York City claims the system has already prevented crime, many parties have[10] questioned the validity of the DAS with respect to the 4th Amendment and racial profiling, including the ACLU and New York City Comptroller John Liu.[11]


US common law holds that filming of persons in public places, even surreptitiously, does not constitute a violation of 4th amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. In Katz v. US (1967), the United States Supreme Court found no reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place.[12] This created the Katz test for legality of surveillance based on what a hypothetical objective person considers a “reasonable expectation” of privacy. The 9th Circuit Court has ruled “video surveillance does not in itself violate a reasonable expectation of privacy.”[13] Other federal courts have agreed[14], the Supreme Court has not directly ruled on video surveillance, and Congress has not passed any limiting laws.[15] On grounds of both statutory and case law, video surveillance of persons in public is legal in the US.

Due to federal regulation limiting audio surveillance in public, many surveillance systems only include video.[16] However, the 7th Circuit Court ruled in 2012 that audio recording of police in public is protected under the first amendment, and the US Supreme Court denied certiorari for an appeal.[17] Thus, the legality of audio surveillance may be changing, and video systems may begin including audio recording systems.


Opponents of Video Surveillance[edit]

Graffiti artist Banksy in opposition to video surveillance

Opponents of video surveillance are mainly concerned with loss of privacy due to increasing camera presence and integration. Civil liberties groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, have campaigned against widespread CCTV use through opinion pieces and candidate support. The ACLU’s argument against surveillance focuses on four areas: ineffectiveness of the systems, potential abuse, lack of regulations and control of data, and the “effect on public life”.[18]

Other policy advocate and research groups, such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and Big Brother Watch, focus solely on civil liberties and privacy, with an emphasis on public surveillance.[19][20] EPIC started an initiative in 2002 called “Observing Surveillance” that documents CCTV use in Washington D.C. and includes photo exhibits, public protests, and maps indicating surveillance cameras in tourist areas. Their goal is to “promote public debate” about the role of surveillance in a post-9/11 American society.[21] Many of these groups use similar tactics that compare societies with video surveillance to that in George Orwell’s 1984.[22] These tactics include street performances, where group members dressed as human CCTV cameras and read aloud from 1984 to demonstrate the comparison.[23]

Proponents of Video Surveillance[edit]

Surveillance footage used in finding Boston Marathon bombings suspect

Supporters of video surveillance contend that its role in preventing and solving crime outweighs its threats to privacy.

Crime Prevention[edit]

A study conducted by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) examined the effectiveness of video surveillance systems in Baltimore, Maryland; Chicago, Illinois; and Washington D.C.[24] While the video surveillance systems in Baltimore and Chicago reduced crime by up 10%, with no significant crime displacement, the Washington D.C. system had no demonstrable effect on crime. Further, the DOJ showed that the benefits of reductions in crime in Baltimore and Chicago outweighed the costs of the surveillance system by as much as 4 to 1. However, video surveillance systems were not proven effective in all cases. In both Baltimore and Chicago, the crime rates in some areas of the cities were unaffected by increased video surveillance. Researchers suggest that the differences in effectiveness of surveillance systems could be partially explained by the system design, the public’s perception of and involvement in its implementation, and the degree to which the cameras are monitored by local law enforcement.

Solving Crime[edit]

Advocates argue that video surveillance is a valuable tool for solving crime. Video surveillance footage played a large part in the investigation of multiple high visibility terrorist attacks, including the 7/7 bombing in London in 2005 and the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing. Boston street camera footage was used to identify the suspects and shared with the public 3 days after the bombing, sparking an unprecedented viral manhunt.[25] Public officials in Boston and across the US responded with increased support for public surveillance systems.[26] New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke of video surveillance as a necessary reality in an increasingly dangerous world. On April 22, 2013 Bloomberg’s statements reflected an increasingly common sentiment: “the people who are worried about privacy have a legitimate worry…[but] we have to understand that in the world going forward, we’re going to have more cameras.”[27]

Public Opinion on Video Surveillance[edit]

Public support for video surveillance, like other forms of government surveillance, has remained relatively constant in recent years. 71% of those surveyed in a 2007 poll[28] supported increases in government video surveillance. A 2013 poll[29], conducted just weeks after the Boston Marathon Bombing, reported that 71% of respondents wanted to keep the same or increase the number of surveillance cameras (31% same, 40% increase) while only 12% wanted less video surveillance.


Sousveillance, a term coined by Steve Mann, is defined as recording of an activity by disorganized citizens.[30] Where surveillance can be thought of as oversight, sousveillance is undersight. The etymology is French: 'sous' translates to 'from below' while 'sur' means 'over'. Sousveillance is possible as long as citizens have access to recording technologies.

Google Glass - an example of wearable sousveillance

Modern sousveillance has taken form most notably as non-wearable devices. Many cell phones and tablets contain a camera, one billion of which were bought worldwide in 2012.[31] Cell phones have likely replaced camcorders as primary video capture devices. While not wearable technology, cell phone cameras provide the public with unprecedented ability to video record.

Wearable video recording technologies are also expanding. GoPro, a company producing wearable, high-definition video cameras, sold 2.3 million units in 2012.[32] Google has released 10,000 units of Google Glass, a camera and computer mounted on eyeglasses.[33] This technology offers users greater ability to discreetly and passively record video.


Rodney King[edit]

The 1991 videotaped beating of Rodney King by L.A.P.D. police officers represents an early, highly publicised example of sousveillance in the US. The video was captured with a personal video camera by a bystander observing the events from a nearby apartment. Following a heavily covered trial, the officers charged with the beating were acquitted, sparking the deadly 1992 Los Angeles riots.

UC Davis pepper-spray incident[edit]

A more recent example of sousveillance is the UC Davis pepper-spray incident, where students video recorded a riot geared police officer pepper-spraying non-violent protesters.[34] The incident received worldwide attention and prompted calls for resignation of the chancellor of the university.[35] In this scenario, citizens used video recording to challenge authority, rather than typical surveillance where authorities record citizens.


Support for sousveillance can come from popular media and police themselves. Photography Is Not A Crime, a blog, mainly documents cases of citizens dissuaded from filming police. It holds that filming of persons in public has never been illegal and reports on purported violations of this right.[36] Head-mounted cameras on police officers are a mix or surveillance and sousveillance: The recording is from a participant’s perspective, but also kept by authorities. A year-long experiment in Rialto, California showed that recording of interactions by police caused a drastic drop in complaints against officers during arrests and sometimes helped prove officer wrongdoing.[37]


Prevalence of citizen-owned video recording devices may pose a risk to privacy separate from surveillance by governments or corporations. Universal internet connectivity allows easy video dissemination through social media. Facial recognition technology, already employed by private surveillance entities, can further erode privacy and anonymity. A letter from Senator Al Franken to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration regarding facial recognition technology reveals a public concern for privacy.[38] The Obama administration has tasked the NTIA with researching facial recognition technology.[39] Companies have taken steps to combat privacy violations by sousveillance. In Japan, cell phone camera shutter sounds cannot be disabled to discourage discrete photography.[33] Google has banned all facial recognition apps on Google Glass.[40]


Both video surveillance and sousveillance have become fixtures of modern society, proving a valuable tool for deterring crime and police misconduct but also creating privacy concerns. Advocacy groups have emerged on both sides of the issues. While it remains unclear which type of veillance, sur or sous, will become most relevant to privacy concerns, it is certain that the status quo is evolving. Justice Samuel Alito has captured the shifting standards:

“The Katz (expectation-of-privacy) test rests on the assumption that this hypothetical person has a well-developed and stable set of privacy expectations. But technology can change those expectations.”

While citizens’ perceptions and expectations of privacy shape how technology is used, that same technology affects the socially evolving expectations of privacy.

Further Research[edit]

Ideas for future research and expansion of this chapter include

  • Lifeloggers - Those who record their lives with wearable cameras; an idea pioneered by Steve Mann
  • Leon Rosby - Hawthorne man arrested after filming policemen. His arrest was recorded as well by two other bystanders.
  • Google street view and privacy
  • Dashcams


  1. Harris, C., Jones, P., Hillier, D. & Turner, D. (1998). CCTV surveillance systems in town and city centre management. Property Management 16 (3), 161.
  2. Kruegle, H. (2007). 9.11 Analog Video Cassette Recorder (VCR). CCTV Surveillance: Video Practices and Technology (2nd ed., pp. 276). Burlington, MA: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann.
  3. Harris, C., Jones, P., Hillier, D. & Turner, D. (1998). CCTV surveillance systems in town and city centre management. Property Management 16 (3), 161.
  4. New York Police Department (2013). Counterterrorism Units.
  5. Buckley, C. (2007, July 9). New York Plans Surveillance Veil for Downtown. The New York Times.
  6. Savage, C. (2013, August 21). Facial Scanning is Making Gains in Surveillance. The New York Times.
  7. New York City Office of the Mayor (2012, August 8). Mayor Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Kelly and Microsoft unveil new, state-of-the-art law enforcement technology that aggregates and analyzes existing public safety data in real time to provide a comprehensive view of potential threats and criminal activity (PR-291-12).
  8. Francescani, C. (2013, June 21). NYPD expands surveillance net to fight crime as well as terrorism. Reuters.
  9. Long, C. (2013, February 2). NYPD, Microsoft Create Crime-Fighting ‘Domain Awareness’ Tech System. Huffington Post.
  10. Francescani, C. (2013, June 21). NYPD expands surveillance net to fight crime as well as terrorism. Reuters.
  11. Liu, J. C. (2013, August 28). Liu: Report of NYPD Mosque Surveillance is Outrageous Abuse of Civil Rights.
  12. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967).
  13. United States v. Taketa, 923 F. 2d 665 (9th Cir. 1991).
  14. United States v. Vazquez, 31 F. Supp. 2d 85 (D. Conn. 1998).
  15. The Constitution Project (2007). Guidelines for public video surveillance.
  16. Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, 18 USC § 2511
  17. ACLU v. Alvarez, 2012 U.S. 679 F.3d 583 (7th Cir. 2012, May 8)
  18. American Civil Liberties Union (2002, February 25). What’s Wrong with Public Video Surveillance?
  19. Big Brother Watch (2013). About Us.
  20. Electronic Privacy Information Center (2013). About EPIC.
  21. Electronic Privacy Information Center (2002). Observing Surveillance.
  22. 1984 Action Day (2013). 2nd International NoCCTV Actionday.
  23. Wilde, B. (2013). 1984 Action Day, 8th June 2013.
  24. La Vigne, Nancy G.; Lowry, Samantha S.; Markman, Joshua A.; Dwyer, Allison M. (2011, Sept). Evaluating the Use of Public Surveillance Cameras for Crime Control and Prevention. US Department of Justice.
  25. Bensinger, Ken; Chang, Andrea(2013, April 20). Boston bombings: Social media spirals out of control. Los Angeles Times.
  26. Atlas, Terry; Stohr, Greg (2013, April 29) Surveillance Cameras Sought by Cities After Boston Bombs. Bloomberg Personal Finance.
  27. Colvin, Jill (2013, April 22). Bloomberg Says Interpretation of Constitution Will ‘Have to Change’ After Boston Bombing. Politicker.
  28. ABC News; Washington Post (2007, July 29). [http://abcnews.go.com/images/US/1041a5Surveillance.pdf Surveillance Cameras Win Broad Support].
  29. Swanson, Emily; Sledge, Matt (2013, April 24). Boston Bombings Prompt Mixed Support For Increased Surveillance, HuffPost/YouGov Poll Finds.Huffington Post.
  30. Mann, S., Nolan, J., Wellman, B., (2003). Sousveillance: inventing and using wearable computing devices for data collection in surveillance environments. Surveillance & Society 1(3): 331-355.
  31. ABI research (2013, January 3). Over 1 Billion Cameras Shipped in Smartphones and Tablets during 2012.
  32. Mac, R. (2013, March 3). The mad billionaire behind GoPro: the world's hottest camera company. Forbes
  33. a b The Economist (2013, November 16). Ubiquitous cameras: the people’s panopticon.
  34. Johnson, T., (2011) UC Davis Pepper Spray - What Really Happened.
  35. Stelter, B., (2011, November 19). U.C. Davis Calls for Investigation After Pepper Spraying. New York Times.
  36. Miller, C., (2013, November 14). Boston police arrest student on wiretapping charges for video recording them. Photography is not a Crime.
  37. Lovett, I., (2011, August 21). In california, a champion for police cameras. New York Times.
  38. O'Dell, J., (2013, November 21). Sen. Al Franken lets loose on facebook for facial recognition. Venturebeat.com
  39. Strickling, L., (2013, December 3). Privacy and facial recognition technology. NTIA.
  40. Google Glass (2013, May 31). Glass and facial recognition. Google Plus post.