was reading an article from the Herald Sun in Australia.
In Melbourne, it is estimated that just about every person appears
on surveillance cameras 100 or more times per day.
I want to be both realistic and, in a way, conservative in approaching
such a number.
of all, I think that we can agree just about the only place that
does not have surveillance cameras of some kind is our respective
homes. Perhaps you have them at your house, but for most people
I’m going to say no, and I firmly believe we can all say that’s
accurate. But the grocery store… the bank… even at the places
we work… it’s possible. Once we get into our cars and leave the
driveway, or close the door on our apartment, there is a chance
that we are being watched on a surveillance camera. I think that’s
I think it’s safe to say that most people are in their homes for
about 12 hours a day. I know that doesn’t apply in every case…
some are home more often… some are home less often… and for some
it all depends on the day of the week. But between sleeping, eating
and just watching television or whatever we do to occupy our time,
12 hours in the house seems like a safe, conservative average.
so far? Good...
means… by doing the math… that most of us are in some way possibly
being watched for half of every day. And if we can use this breakdown
of a day as somewhat universal… which I think is fair… and are
to believe the numbers being reported in Melbourne, that means
they appear on a surveillance camera 8 to 10 times every hour.
And that’s the part of this report that I wonder about.
article doesn’t say what an “appearance” is.
it any place I go? Perhaps I show up on the tapes from two or
three different cameras in the bank, but since it was just at
the bank that only counts as a single appearance.
it any time I show up, even in the same place but on a different
camera? I could be at a gas station or in a department store,
and if I move into the range of three different cameras while
there, even in a matter of seconds, that counts as three appearances.
it a length of time that I appear on camera? It could be the same
camera that is watching me, but if it picks me up for over ten
seconds… over thirty seconds… over a minute… that triggers a count
as an additional appearance.
differences between what an “appearance” is are important. Because
by pushing examples like the ones I’ve noted to the extreme, 8
to 10 appearances per hour could range from filling the gas tank
of my car and getting a drink at a convenience store (which might
fill the quota for an entire hour in just a few minutes) to having
a camera fixed inside the monitor of my computer on my desk at
let’s push this matter forward a bit, beyond who is watching,
when they’re watching, what they’re watching and how long they’re
the article mentioned, surveillance images have allowed for incredible
advances… and amazingly quick advances… in assembling information
about bombings in England. The article also mentions a degree
of privacy concerns. And I think… well, I think everyone
is overreacting a bit. And that scares me… because it sure seems
like George Orwell may have only been off by a couple of decades.
old cliché says there are two sides to every story. And
in my experience, that’s true. For every story… issue… debate…
situation… circumstance… whatever… there are two sides. In most
cases, they aren’t in complete agreement. And of those cases,
just about all of the time the truth is in the middle.
want to live in a black and white, right and wrong world… where
decisions are easy and the truth is obvious.
live in a world with varying shades of gray, and the truth being
found in the middle of the two sides. Sure, it may reside closer
to one story than it does to the other… but it’s in the middle…
in the gray.
a result, quite often the immediate reactions to a problem aren’t
the best solutions. They tend to favor one side of the story or
the other, and neglect to take into account that the real solution
is also going to be found in the middle.
true that these surveillance cameras can be responsible for some
great things. But for people that defend them in absolute terms,
I ask you if you’ve heard of identity theft.
as one example, twenty years ago when I was applying to colleges,
every application had a place for my Social Security number. Didn’t
give it a second thought at the time. And now? Have you heard
what happened at the University of Connecticut? I don’t have the
link, but it was directly from a UConn site and provided details
about how approximately 72,000 people may have had information
compromised. (I didn’t go searching for a link that connected,
because the story from UConn and information being compromised
is simply far too common.)
that idea of providing information in what we approach withiout
a second thought and run with it.
about the financial institutions? Banks, credit reporting agencies,
or any other place that holds such records. Do you pay attention
to the news? Because it’s filled with stories of records being
stolen or in some way violated.
you think they thought about these possibilities when creating
the idea of a Social Security number? How about all the organizations
that decided to ask for an individual’s Social Security number?
the people that decided to computerize all of my data so that
someone might be able to get it from a source I trusted… I’m just
as we talk about these surveillance cameras, and see how they
are being used for more and more and more things… from security
in buildings to catching motor vehicle violations to any other
purpose… it seems to me that the world today has more or less
not only accepted them in certain instances, but accepted their
importance in future uses.
people claiming that we need more and more cameras are right…
to a point. But having seen what protection my identity is offered,
forgive me for not having complete and blind faith that the cameras
will always be used for the right reasons.
people claiming that our privacy is being violated and the need
for more controls are right… to a point. But to paraphrase Sean
Connery in The Untouchables… you don’t bring a knife
to a gunfight. If the technology is there to help deter crime,
then it is a responsibility of society to in some way investigate
few years ago I was working in a place that cashed checks for
people. In order to sign up for this, a patron would have to supply
some information… such as identification and a Social Security
number. A man came in looking to cash a check, but refused to
provide his Social Security number. I apologized and told him
we couldn’t cash the check without it. And that’s when the Abbott
and Costello routine broke out.
insisted I had to cash the check.
insisted… as politely as I could… that I could only attempt to
cash it with the required information.
actually debated it with me for ten minutes. I still think he
was an idiot.
was absolutely right… he didn’t need to give me the number. But
he was wrong… I didn’t have to cash his check.
advances in the world… such as technology and surveillance cameras…
are going to be made thoughtfully and responsibly, I can accept
that. A few extra minutes is a small price to pay so I can go
to the top of the Empire State Building or fly to Australia and
feel safe. Figurative connection – if I want my check cashed,
there may be some procedures I need to accept.
if they are being planned only as a reaction to something, and
if people think that the systems will never be abused or misused…
well… that’s wrong. And if that is the case, then we
really are heading for a day when people will be watched for every
second, every action and wondering where it all went wrong.