Video Surveillance

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"Smile You're On Camera"

Video Surveillance, otherwise known as closed circuit television (CCTV), uses cameras to record or transmit video signal to a specified destination for observation, recording, and playback. Surveillance systems can be installed within and outside homes and businesses. As a result, video records can be used for crime solving in both commercial and private domains and have been used in the workplace to regulate employee behavior and efficiency. Video surveillance has been widely utilized to improve safety in public places, particularly in large cities. Popularity of video surveillance has increased and technology has advanced, making it easier to covertly record one’s surroundings, and concerns regarding privacy have grown increasingly prevalent.


CCTV was first implemented in 1942 in order for scientists to view the launch of V2 rockets in Germany.[1] Following its initial implementation, by the late 1950s, video surveillance technology was used by several companies in the U.S. for education, medical, and industrial purposes.[1] The ability to record the transmitted signal, eliminating the need for constant monitoring, was not developed until 1951.[2] Public surveillance became more common in the 1960s when Olean, New York became the first city to use video cameras to monitor the streets in 1968, and the first home security surveillance system patented by Marie Van Brittan Brown in 1969.[2] In 1996, the first IP (Internet Protocol) camera enabled video to be sent and received via computer networks.[2]

Crime Surveillance

Despite being criticized for potential privacy issues, video surveillance has been helpful in detecting and solving crime. The UK supposedly has one camera for every 11 people [3], and for every 1000 cameras in London one crime is solved.[4]

While often times successful at deterring crime in certain cities, it has been shown to not cut down on crime in all areas, many times because criminals don't believe that the cameras were being monitored and that police would not follow through. In such cases it has been shown that the costs outweigh the benefits of installing cameras.[5]


IP Cameras

In 1996, Axis Communications released the first surveillance cameras that use computer networks and the Internet to transmit signal.[1] Rather than use voltage to transmit signal as its predecessors did, IP Cameras transmit information via the TCP/IP Protocol, which enables two-way communication, remote control of the surveillance device, encrypted transmission, artificial intelligence functionality within the actual camera, and improved resolution.[6] However, IP Cameras are more expensive than analog CCTV devices and by using the Internet, the video transmission is more easily accessible to hackers.[1] Axis began using Linux to operate their cameras in 1999 and released an API (Application Program Interface) called Vapix, allowing third parties to create recording software.[1] In 2005, Intellio released the first IP Camera that could detect movement and theft.[1]

Wide Area Surveillance

As technology has become more advanced and video cameras are able to record footage in greater detail and with more precision, video cameras mounted on fixed-wing aircraft are becoming more common, otherwise known as wide area surveillance. Retired Air Force Officer McNutt who helped design a system for the skies over a battleground city in Iraq, estimates that his 192-megapixel camera could record 50 crimes throughout the duration of a six-hour flight.[7] Aerial surveillance has been tested in Dayton, Philadelphia, Compton, and Baltimore for traffic impact studies and for security at large events. In 2007, McNutt founded an Ohio-based company called Persistent Surveillance Systems (PSS) to develop aerial surveillance in order to monitor large areas of land at once.[8] PSS utilizes two cameras, the HawkEye II for airborne wide area surveillance and the Vision RL for fixed wide area surveillance.[8] McNutt and PSS are negotiating with city and state law enforcement regarding the implementation of their wide area surveillance technology.

Personal Webcams as Surveillance Devices

Webcams either built into computers or that connect to computers via USB can be converted into do-it-yourself video surveillance systems. Software that allow for surveillance capabilities have been developed, like iSpy Connect and SightHound.[9] Once the software is installed, users are prompted to define a perimeter around an area in which the camera is programmed to detect movement. Depending on the software, users can either set up text-message or email notifications about detected movement.[9]

Video Surveillance and Facial Recognition

Facial recognition technology has been in development since the 1960s, though details about its progress have been kept quiet until recently. Earlier models required human input and were less automated. Biometric facial recognition involves three steps: detecting a face, recording detected faces, and then matching those faces with faces stored in a database. The software uses about 80 facial “landmarks” or “nodal points” to distinguish between faces, like nose width, eye-socket depth, and cheekbone shape.[10] Cameras are now capable of 3D modeling, rather than 2D modeling that was used in the past that required faces to be turned at least 35 degrees toward the camera.[10]

These systems have been used to track people entering and leaving a location, confirm identity for access control, and locate individuals who are believed to pose a threat to public safety. In 2014, the FBI launched the Next Generation Identification system.[11] Beginning as a pilot program in 2009, the system was designed by defense contractor Lockheed Martin (LMT) and built by MorphoTrust, a company that specializes in biometric scanning.[11] Research indicates that 1 in 2 adult Americans have their picture in a facial recognition database and 16 states allow the FBI to access their DMV photo databases.[12]

Ethical Issues

Monitoring without explicit consent

By law it is illegal to videotape anyone when there is a "reasonable expectation of privacy." This includes but is not limited to private restrooms, bedrooms, changing rooms, etc.. While in public, people are likely to know that they could be being monitored by any number of surveillance devices, but once inside a private residence or an area where recording may be considered unethical, issues can arise around when it is considered acceptable to monitor without one's explicit consent or notice.[13] The monitoring trespassers without consent is permitted within current legal framework, as they waive any right to privacy by illegally trespassing.[13]


In Ypsilanti, Michigan, resident Steve Pierce mounted a private webcam system which records public spaces in downtown Ypsilanti such as dumpsters, train stations, and parking lots.[14] The city's Downtown Development Authority (DDA) has been in contact with Pierce to address governmental and citizen concerns regarding the placement and use of the webcam. However, because the video feeds are not directed towards private property, his actions are deemed legal. Pierce has not commented on if he will sell any of the content, but is currently broadcasting live streams freely under a Creative Commons license on his website.[15] The DDA says that Pierce refused to sign a privacy contract that would disallow the sale of footage captured by the surveillance system; however, Pierce says that he did not refuse.[16] Pierce, in defending the content and placement of the feed, equates them to web cameras broadcasting from zoos and national monuments.[14][16]

Hacking into private cameras to remotely control them

"Insecam" is a site that allows anyone to online security cams

Contrary to popular belief, it is easy for people to hack into computers and watch them through their computer's webcam. Hackers can send their victims emails, get them to click on malicious links on websites, or use software such as Meterpreter, which gain the hacker access to a victim's webcam.[17] Victims have reported cases of finding images and videos of themselves online (often times on voyerism sites), many times whilst naked or in compromising situations.[18]

To combat this potential invasion of privacy many people have elected to simply place a small piece of opaque tape over their webcam. Experts also suggest not clicking on sites that have uncertain destinations, as well as keeping anti-virus softwares and operating systems up to date in order to lower the chances of a hacker gaining access to personal webcams. [19]

Hacked webcam footage is often uploaded to "webcam sites" where anyone can log on and view videos taken on a webcam without the cam owner's consent. One website, Insecam", updated their site to only include footage from "filtered cameras" to protect individual privacy, and claims that it will remove any webcam footage when asked. That said, the site's original purpose was "to show the importance of the security settings," and it claimed to have access to over 11,000 cameras in the US alone, streaming content that included unknowing people spending time in their living rooms, kids sleeping in bedrooms, and more. [20]

Wearable Devices

Google Glass

Google's "Glass" product, launched in 2012 but retired in 2015, was a pair of eyeglasses with built-in computing power and digital sensors. One of the product's capabilities included taking photos and videos using the product's camera. Concern over the product's usage stems from the same concerns about consent to be monitored and recorded. The product has a camera built into each device and has the ability recognize people in its view of focus. The introduction of such technology sparked the development of applications such as NameTag. The main idea behind NameTag was every time a person struck up a conversation with a new person, Google Glass would take a picture of the person and check their online profiles. It would search to see if the two people engaged in conversation have any similar interests, hobbies, or maybe they have a criminal history. Either way, the goal was to make sure that every new person someone talks to, they're never a complete stranger for more than a few minutes[21].

Google Glass marked the beginning of wearable surveillance and became a salient issue in this debate because of the settings and scenarios in which it can be used. While modern video surveillance systems are often limited to either public spaces or private areas, Google Glass encompasses both of these types of space and more. Concerns surrounding this topic have motivated bans, such as one at a Seattle bar, where customers are not allowed to wear Google Glasses[22]. The video and audio captured by Google Glass was done in real time and stored in the cloud. Emerging technology like this is not like handheld video cameras with audio functioning. Their storage capacities are different in the way that these new technologies are designed to have its data automatically uploaded to cloud servers. That is where aggregation and analytic capacities reside. Once here, many questions come into play, like who owns this data? And can the database be mined and analyzed for commercial use? Either way, the pervasiveness of this technology has people concerned and left wondering if the government should step in and play a regulatory role.

Spectacles by Snap, Inc.

Spectacles are a pair of glasses with a built-in camera. Launched by camera company Snap Inc. in 2016, Spectacles pair with smartphones and sync with the associated mobile app, Snapchat. Wearers can tap the frames once to start a 10-second video recording, and can tap up to three times for a 30-second recording. When recording a video, a light on the front of the glasses activates. CEO Evan Spiegel claims that Spectacles removes the "wall" that the smartphone camera creates when taking a picture or video.

According to David Pierini, "photographers have been stealth in their shooting for decades... [going] unnoticed as they work with a small, inconspicuous camera [the smartphone]."[23] Taking pictures and videos with a smartphone is still an obvious visual indicator to subjects in photos that they are being recorded. These subjects can then approach the photographer and ask them to stop if they are uncomfortable with it.

Although Spectacles do have the light showing that the device is recording, this is not as obvious a visual indicator as someone physically taking a picture or video with a smartphone. This raises concerns about recording and monitoring people discreetly without consent. For example, someone performing an embarrassing act could be filmed using Spectacles without their knowledge. Since Spectacles videos can be saved to a user's phone and shared on other social media platforms, this video could go viral and negatively affect the subject.

Implications of Facial Recognition

FBI’s NGI System The FBI's Next Generation Identification (NGI) System provides the criminal justice community with the world's largest electronic repository of criminal history and biometric information. Its capabilities range from advanced fingerprint identification technology to automatic notifications of activity for people in positions of trust (such as a teacher or daycare worker who are under criminal justice suspicion). One of these capabilities is facial recognition, which is run through the Interstate Photo System (IPS). The IPS provides a way to search through the photos of millions of criminals that the FBI has collected over decades past.[24]

People argue that unlike fingerprint or iris identification, facial recognition is designed to operate without the knowledge or consent of the person being identified. It is often done from a distance, and it is nearly impossible to prevent oneself from being identified by cameras. These surveillance cameras are not only on street corners and shopping centers anymore; they're now integrated into everyday objects. Additionally, their capabilities are no longer limited to capturing video footage in case of emergencies. They can now perform functions such as approximating the age and gender of passersby. Since facial recognition takes place in public spaces, it is not necessary for the people being surveilled to grant it permission. While facial recognition algorithms themselves are neutral, the databases they're tied to are not. No matter what the database concerns, they are designed to sort the people they're surveilling into categorizable groups.

Promoting Privacy through Facial Recognition Technology

While this idea is met with resistance, having fluid surveillance can be used outside of security purposes. Facial recognition can personalize experiences among many industries. For example, facial recognition surveillance can be used at hotels to greet guests by their proper names. Additionality, Snapchat is using facial recognition technology to further protect users privacy through automatically blur or place an emoji over their face after it is recognized in photos on the web to abide by users' selected privacy policy parameters. The facial recognition technology would also give the option of refusing to share the photos of a user to ensure their privacy. [25]


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  13. 13.0 13.1 Clauser, Grant. "Security Cameras, Ethics, and the Law." The Wirecutter, 23 Sept. 2016. Web. <>.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Tom Perkins 16 March 2017 Resident's expansion of his downtown Ypsilanti webcam system raises privacy concerns
  15. Steve Pierce Ypsilanti Web Cams (2016)
  16. 16.0 16.1 Tom Perkins 19 March 2017 DDA to continue discussing resident's 'disturbing' downtown Ypsilanti webcam system in April
  17. "How to Secretly Hack Into, Switch On, & Watch Anyone's Webcam Remotely" Wonder How To, 15 June 2016. Web. <>.
  18. Johnson, Luke. "Can people really spy on me through my laptop or smartphone camera?" Digital Spy, 30 Dec. 2016. Web. <>.
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  21. Poladian, Charles. NameTag: Facial Recognition App Checks If Your Date Is A Sex Offender But Should You Use It? International Business Times
  22. Hickey, Matt. Seattle Diner Booting Customers For Wearing Google Glass Forbes
  23. Pierini, D. (2016). Snapchat Spectacles could blur a line between fun and privacy | Cult of Mac. Cult of Mac. Retrieved 5 April 2017, from
  24. "Next Generation Identification (NGI)." FBI Services., 06 May 2016. Web. <>.