The Promise And Pitfalls Of Modern Surveillance Cameras


Surveillance companies, using networks of cheap Web-connected cameras and powerful new video-analysis software, are able spot faces and license plates in almost real time, at ports, military bases, and companies, the New York Times reports. Security perimeters can be changed or strengthened with a mouse click. Feeds from hundreds of cameras can be combined into a single desktop view. Videotape that used to take hours or days to scour is searched in minutes. Once profiles of people being watched reach a certain critical level of detail, it becomes fairly simple to search the “motion events” to find out where someone has been – essentially the same as entering a name on Google.

Systems produced by San Francisco-based 3VR Security Inc. can be set up to do more than retrace a person’s steps: it can also set off an alert almost instantly if someone on a watch list enters a building or a restricted area. Bruce Schneier, a security expert in Mountain View, Ca., questions the real purpose of systems like 3VR’s. “These things aren’t designed to catch the bad guys,” Schneier said. “They’re for watching the good and the stupid. The bad guys, they’ll just wear a hat and sunglasses the day that they want to avoid the camera.”


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