Video: Panacea or Pandora’s Box?

Digital technology and IP connectivity have made video surveillance an amazingly powerful facet of security and an increasingly valuable business management tool, not to mention a huge source of revenue growth for integrators. Advances in wireless technology, analytics, scalability and integratability are expanding the applications and ubiquity even more. But for all its virtues, the new era of video presents an equal number of challenges and quandaries, and I don’t mean the economy.

Traditionally, video surveillance has sparked debate and outrage for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as it relates to a person’s rights to privacy. That outcry was reduced to a murmur following 9/11 as fear and distraction allowed the number of cameras and recording systems to grow exponentially. Privacy concerns were further assuaged thanks to image masking and other safeguards, while global acts of terrorism continued to heighten the urgent need to maximize surveillance.

So today we find ourselves in the midst of an unabated and largely unchecked proliferation of cameras and surveillance systems. On one hand, it’s great for the industry and, in many cases, for everyone in terms of safety and efficiency. On the other hand, it’s sort of like the Wild West and we are wading into uncharted waters — some of which, if we are not careful, may sink us. If you think the false alarm issue has been heated and complex, it could become child’s play by comparison.

Millions of cameras have been deployed around the world for myriad applications. Many of them have installation, user or other issues that undermine the technology and, by association, our industry. Could be improper lighting; inadequate frame rate; camera positioning; wrong lens; cabling problems; storage insufficiencies; no one watching the monitors (or watching things they shouldn’t); constricted network bandwidth; etc.

Regardless of the reason or where the fault lies, how do you think users or authorities will feel about the surveillance system in question when it fails to meet their needs for anything from verifying an intrusion to identifying a perpetrator? Not fondly. Consider how many high-profile instances have been plastered on mainstream media explaining that cameras were present but were not recording, or maybe they were recording but the footage looks like it was shot through a tunnel during a snowstorm.

On the other side of the spectrum, if the system performs optimally and is used properly, today’s imaging technology and abundance of distribution media make the ACLU’s worries of the past seem as quaint as silent movies being chastised for showing too much ankle. With crystal-clear digital images and YouTube, suddenly those watchdogs don’t seem all that paranoid.

Recently a homeowner who was fed up with being a multiple burglar victim had an expensive video surveillance system installed in his home. When he was again burglarized, he posted the entire clip of the man stealing his valuables and ransacking his house on YouTube in the hope someone might recognize the perp and help lead to his apprehension. While the notion of large-scale community policing like this is intriguing, it opens up a huge can of worms — particularly with how far technology has outstripped the ability for courts to keep up with timely and relevant decisions.

In another case, footage at a nursing home revealed gross mistreatment of patients, including a man dying after being ignored for 22 hours while workers played cards and watched TV. Hopefully, that will lead to severe punishment; however, it underscores a larger issue. As surveillance systems capture and record larger volumes of heinous acts, how will employers, authorities, courts, prisons, etc. process and keep?

As an industry professional, I urge you to remain aware of such developments. Not only is it critical for the long-term future of your business, but also for the security community to fulfill its responsibility of doing what’s best for America. Handled right, video surveillance can excel on both counts.

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About the Author


Scott Goldfine is the marketing director for Elite Interactive Solutions. He is the former editor-in-chief and associate publisher of Security Sales & Integration. He can be reached at [email protected].

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