is a web-based application charting the locations of closed-circuit
television (CCTV) surveillance cameras in urban environments.
With iSee, users can find routes that avoid these cameras ("paths
of least surveillance")allowing them to walk around their
cities without fear of being "caught on tape" by unregulated security
to use iSee
Click on starting location.
icon will appear.
2) Click on destination.
will generate the safest 'path of least surveillance'
between these two places.
should use iSee
past several years has seen a dramatic increase in CCTV surveillance
of public space. Video cameras peer at us from the sides of buildings,
from ATM machines, from traffic lights, capturing our every move
for observation by police officers and private security guards
that often act with very little public or legislative oversight.
While the effectiveness of these devices in reducing crime is
dubious at best (see below), recent cases of misuse by public
and private authorities serve to question the appropriateness
of video monitoring in public space. Here is a short list of people
who might legitimately want to avoid having their picture taken
by unseen observers:
of the big problems with video surveillance is the tendency of
police officers and security guards to single out particular people
to monitor. It is hardly surprising that the mentality leading
to racial profiling in traffic stops has found similar expression
in police officers focusing their cameras on people of color.
Indeed, a recent study of video surveillance in the UK, the leading
user of CCTV surveillance systems, says that "black people were
between one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half times more likely to
be surveilled than one would expect from their presence in the
population." It is worth pointing out that, in this study, 40%
of people that the police targeted were picked out "for no obvious
reason," other than their ethnicity or apparent membership in
various subcultural groups. In other words, they were singled
out not for what they were doing, but simply based on how they
appears that police monitors just can’t seem to keep it in their
pants when it comes to video surveillance. In a Hull University
study, 1 out of 10 women were targeted for “voyeuristic” reasons
by male camera operators, and a Brooklyn police sergeant blew
the whistle on several of her colleagues in 1998 for “taking pictures
of civilian women in the area ... from breast shots to the backside."
men, particularly young black men, are routinely singled out by
police operators for increased scrutiny. This is particularly
true if they appear to belong to subcultural groups that authority
figures find suspicious or threatening. Do you wear baggy pants
or shave your head? Smile – you’re on candid camera!
Hull University study also found a tendency of CCTV operators
to focus on people whose appearance or activities marked them
as being "out of place." This includes people loitering outside
of shops, or homeless people panhandling. Not surprisingly, this
group includes individuals observed to be expressing their opposition
to the CCTV cameras.
has shown that CCTV systems may be used to spy on activist groups
engaged in legal forms of dissent or discussion. Indeed, the City
College of New York was embarrassed several years ago by student
activists who found, much to their dismay, that the administration
had installed surveillance cameras in their meeting areas. This
trend shows no signs of abating: one of the more popular demonstrations
of CCTV capabilities that law enforcement officials and manufacturers
like to cite is the ability to read the text of fliers that activists
post on public lampposts.
face it – we all do things that are perfectly legal, but that
we still may not want to share with the rest of the world. Kissing
your lover on the street, interviewing for a new job without your
current employer’s knowledge, visiting a psychiatrist – these
are everyday activities that constitute our personal, private
lives. While there is nothing wrong with any of them, there are
perfectly good reasons why we may choose to keep them secret from
coworkers, neighbors, or anyone else.
what’s the harm?
video surveillance of public space represents an invasion of personal
privacy. But so what? Having one's picture taken from time to
time seems a small price to pay for the security benefits such
surveillance offers. It's not like anyone ever sees the tapes,
and let's be honest being singled out for scrutiny by remote
operators without your even knowing about it is not at all the
same as being pulled over, intimidated and harassed by a live
this is not entirely accurate. The fact is, there is very little
oversight of video surveillance systems, and the question of who
owns the tapes and who has the right to see them -
is still largely undecided.
fact is, many of the cameras monitoring public space are privately
owned. Banks, office buildings, and department stores all routinely
engage in continuous video monitoring of their facilities and
of any adjacent public space. The recordings they make are privately
owned, and may be stored, broadcast, or sold to other companies
without permission, disclosure, or payment to the people involved.
video footage that is captured by public police departments may
be considered part of the "public record," and as such are available
for the asking to individuals, companies, and government agencies.
At present, there is precious little to prevent television programs
like "Cops" and "America's Funniest Home Movies" from broadcasting
surveillance video without ever securing permission from their
far-fetched? Already in the UK the country that so far has
made the most extensive use of CCTV systems (although the Canada
and US are catching up) there has been one such case. In
199X, Barrie Goulding released "Caught in the Act" a video compilation
of "juicy bits" from street video surveillance systems. Featuring
intimate contacts including one scene of a couple having
sex in an elevator this video sensationalized footage of
ordinary people engaged in (mostly) legal but nonetheless private
there has been a proliferation of "spy cam" websites featuring
clandestine footage of women in toilets, dressing rooms, and a
variety of other locations. A lack of legislative oversight allows
these sites to operate legally, but even if new laws are passed,
the nature of the Internet makes prosecutions highly unlikely.
video surveillance systems evolve and become more sophisticated,
the opportunities for abuse are compounded. Sophisticated video
systems can identify the faces of individuals (matching video
images to databases of known faces for example, the repository
of driver's license photos maintained by the Department of Motor
Vehicles), the objects they carry (including, for example, reading
the text on personal documents), and their activities. These systems
enable the creation of databases that know who you are, where
you've been, when you were there, and what you were doing. Databases
that are conceivably available to a host of people with whom you'd
rather not share such information, including employers, ex-lovers,
and television producers.
of this says nothing about the societal impact of our increasing
reliance on surveillance, and our growing willingness to put ourselves
under the microscope of law enforcement and commercial interests.
Once a cold-war caricature of Soviet-style communist regimes,
the notion of the "surveillance society" is increasingly employed
to describe modern urban life in such bastions of personal liberty
and freedom as the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada.
the nature of such a society has been long theorized by philosophers,
critics, and sociologists, the psychological and social effects
of living under constant surveillance are not yet well understood.
However, the impacts that CCTV systems have on crime are beginning
to be known.
Surveillance and Crime
as a high-tech solution to social problems of crime and disorder
by manufacturers selling expensive video surveillance systems
to local governments and police departments, CCTV has gained much
popularity in recent years. These manufactures claim that CCTV
which often costs upwards of $400,000 to install in a limited
area will dramatically decrease criminality, and provide
a measure of security heretofore unknown to the general public.
As these CCTV systems are often purchased at the expense of other
less-oppressive, less-expensive, and proven law-enforecement methods
such as community policing, the claims of CCTV merchants should
be carefully scrutinized.
is often promoted with thinly veiled references to the threat
of terrorism: hence their widespread use in the UK, which has
long lived with bomb threats and other violent actions. Already,
in light of the September 11 attacks, video surveillance manufacturers
have begun to court the American public with some measure
of success as evidenced by recent gains in these companies' share
to capitalize on an international tragedy to sell product in this
manner may seem tastelessly opportunistic at best. Given the track
record of CCTV systems to date, this strategy seems downright
cynical. According to studies of the effectiveness of video surveillance
in use throughout the UK, there is no conclusive evidence that
the presence of CCTV has any impact on local crime rates. While
there have been examples of reduced criminality in areas where
CCTV has been installed, these reductions may also be explained
by other factors, including general decreases in crime throughout
the UK. Indeed, in several areas where CCTV was installed, crime
rates actually increased.
the widespread use of these systems, it is surprising how infrequently
they lead to arrests. According to one report, a 22-month long
surveillance of New York's Times Square led to only 10 arrests
(those cameras have since been removed). Furthermore, the type
of crime against which CCTV is most effective seems positively
mundane when compared to its advocate's claims of stopping terrorism
and kidnappings. A study of CCTV use in the UK found that the
majority of arrests in which video surveillance played a significant
role were to stop fistfights. Again, this was a relatively infrequent
occurrence, and hardly seems to justify the price tag and loss
of privacy these systems inherently engender.
disturbing, however, was the finding that incidents of police
brutality and harassment captured by CCTV surveillance were routinely
ignored. The tapes of these events also had a tendency to be "lost"
effect of video surveillance on criminal psychology is also not
well understood. One Los Angeles study found that cameras in a
retail store were perceived by criminals as a challenge, and in
fact offered became an inducement towards shoplifting.
best, CCTV seems to not reduce crime, but merely to divert it
to other areas. According to one Boston police official, "criminals
get used to the cameras and tend to move out of sight."
heightened awareness of public safety and increased demand for
greater security in the face of growing threats of terrorist violence,
projects that undermine systems for social control may seem to
some viewers to be in poor taste. It is the Institute for Applied
Autonomy's position that such times call out all the more strongly
for precisely these kinds of projects. As spytech dealers stumble
over themselves in their haste to auction off our civil liberties
- wrapped in the stars and stripes, tied up tight with memorial
ribbons - to right-wing politicos who drool and salivate in anticipation
of railroading their own Orwellian wet-dreams of social control
through our legislative bodies, there is a vital need for independent
voices that cry out against such cynical exploitation of legitimate
human fear and suffering for political power and monetary gain.
The Institute for Applied Autonomy is such a voice. iSee is our
Brought to you by the
Institute for Applied Autonomy
more than ever."
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