Who's watching you? And are you okay with that?

Came across an Oct. 22, 2009 Reuters story that highlighted the results of a Harris Poll Survey that showed 96 percent of Americans were okay with video surveillance used in public in order to combat terrorism. I wrote a piece on the opportunities available to security companies in an age where people expect more public surveillance. I actually couldn't find this "recent" Harris Poll at Harris Interactive, the company that runs the Harris Poll. The most recent Harris Polls on video surveillance I can find online are from February and August of 2006... not really that recent... I've got an email back with the hard data from Harris. Looks like this poll was conducted from May-June 2009. Hopefully they'll put it up online soon. Regardless, it appears the piece is less a news story on a recent poll and more a sales pitch for Behavioral Recognition Systems, a software development company that provides "cognitive video analytics software," that purports to learn the particulars of an environment. Their website also has an audio pitch that starts up automatically and plays regardless of whether you want it to or not... I hate that. The problem, according to the Harris Poll piece, is that "citizen support of video surveillance rests on the assumption that more cameras will result in more secure environments, but that isn't the case. Recently, the security staff at the George Washington Bridge in New York City--responsible for monitoring bridge cameras and security kiosks--was photographed sleeping on the job. Thus, camera proliferation alone ... will not solve the problem." Enter the MacGuffin, in this case analytics from BRS Labs. We here at SSN have written about this problem before, highlighting what many of you are doing to combat the problem of too-thin human resources, including easily overwhelmed or fatigued human attention span. We're all aware that adoption of analytics has been slower than it could be due to over promising capabilities. The November issue has a stats piece (linked in the previous sentence and available in SSN's premium section) on the drivers for future analytics growth. It seems to me, however, that with the price of video coming down, coupled with advances in analytics and wide-spread acceptance of being monitored there should be a lot of opportunity out there for the security industry to get into monitoring of public spaces.


Yet, casinos have been using public surveillance for years and quite effectively. Why are they able to monitor the public and yet security staff in other places (such as at the George Washington Bridge) cannot? I think the problem is less with the video cameras and more with not having enough security staff to rotate. Fatigued human attention span is a mute point, if there are enough staff members to do the job.

I read yesterday that there are over 4 million cameras installed throughout the UK. With a population of only 50-60 million, that's a lot of cameras. Many say that although they have reduced crime rates in city centers, all they have done is push the crime out into the suburbs.

Hey Max,

That's an interesting point. One has to wonder if would-be thieves and mischief makers would simply move to where they feel they're not being surveilled.

Has anyone done a study on this?

There have been lots of studies in the UK and this one seems to be quite comprehensive.... http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs2/hors252.pdf
Five of the towns from the study were in North America.