Home Surveillance and Big Brother?

SurveillanceDaily newspapers are filled with accounts of people expressing their serious concerns about privacy issues in America. From social networks to Internet searches, our lives can sometimes read like an open book and we are constantly being reminded about protecting personal and sensitive information. When it comes to home security, however, most tend to think that certain specialized devices are designed to protect our privacy and control who has access to the more personal things that we value. Yet, right now, some are issuing strong words of caution about privacy as home surveillance cameras, in particular, may soon be used by law enforcement agencies in order to electronically peer more closely into streets and neighborhoods.

Private Home Surveillance in the Fight against Public Crimes?

Soon, law enforcement officers in San Jose, California may be able to use home security cameras in their fight against crime. As I write this, a proposal is set to be addressed at a city council meeting in early February. Under this proposal, residents would voluntarily register their own home security cameras on a police database which would allow officers to immediately access data from those systems whenever a crime occurs in a particular area.

While some citizens do currently volunteer footage that may be helpful in solving crimes, the process of identifying who has cameras, determining where cameras are located and asking for permission to review footage takes additional time and effort during an investigation. Having cameras already registered in a database and permission granted, however, helps to accelerate this process and allows officers to have immediate access to registered video feeds. It should also be noted that the proposal does not request access to live feeds, only those that have been pre-recorded in an area where a specific crime has occurred.

Privacy Concerns

Privacy activists have taken real issue with the potential misuse of cameras registered in such a database. Some do not trust agencies to not use cameras outside of the proposal’s intended purpose. More specifically, some citizens have outright questioned whether this sort of voluntary access is nothing more than a step in the direction of neighborhoods eventually being under 24/7 live surveillance. Opponents have even been very candid in questioning whether certain rogue individuals would misuse the system to tap into live feeds despite policies in place that would limit or otherwise forbid them from doing so.

Could Police Access to Private Surveillance Cameras Become a Trend?

Officials in San Jose are not alone in their proposal to allow law enforcement access to private security cameras. For example, since private surveillance cameras were used to capture the culprits accused of initiating the Boston Marathon bombings, support for a private surveillance camera database has grown in places like Worcester, Massachusetts. While ACLU Senior Policy Analyst, Jay Stanley, criticizes this type of filming as ‘little brother’ surveillance, others prefer for law enforcement to have access to such footage if it will derail similar incidents or result in the capture of criminals. In some places, like New Orleans where the SafeCams8 project is in full effect, private citizens have been eager to lend a hand (or lend a cam…as in footage) in order to help reduce crime. Cities with similar programs or initiatives include Philadelphia and Chicago.

How Might Criminals Respond?

As our longtime readers already know, home surveillance systems are effective burglar deterrents. Even at the sight of fake cameras like the Bullet Dummy Camera which looks exactly like the real thing, criminals are likely to avoid committing a crime where evidence is being recorded on tape. Just as they do when realizing the presence of other security devices such as burglar alarms, and security lighting, criminals would rather bypass a home equipped with one or more cameras in order to find an easier target with no security whatsoever.

What, then, might burglars make of surveillance cameras that offer police immediate access to their criminal evidence? Is it possible that databases like these might help reduce crime, overall? At this time, no agency is able to tap into the live feeds of a private outdoor home surveillance system, but what would happen if they could? Might this be an effective way to reduce crime? Especially in high incident areas?

Useful Surveillance or Big Brother?

As with the capture of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, we know that private surveillance footage can be useful in solving crimes. What are your thoughts about the long-term implications of giving government agencies access to private home security cameras for this purpose in the future, though? Undoubtedly, everyone reading this would be open to volunteering their footage on an as-needed basis if it could help solve a crime, but can you ever imagine yourself registering your outdoor cameras with a local database? Why or why not? We’re interested in hearing your take on this and look forward to the discussion below


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