Addressing Video Surveillance Privacy Concerns

We need to make sure that the push for privacy doesn’t go so far that it makes video technology unusable.

Recently in the news, there was an uproar from the ACLU about Chicago’s desire to increase the number of video security cameras in use throughout the city. While I think part of the ACLU’s concern comes from a misunderstanding of the actual state of the technology, as well as a perception of the way Chicago does business, it still opens up some interesting questions about the increasing use of video surveillance systems.

Privacy is now, and has always been, a concern. There are obvious places where cameras can’t go like bathrooms and such, and without specific agreements, a city can’t put its cameras into a private business or residence. For cameras mounted on city streets or on campus, the situation is not so clear.

Different technologies have been developed over time to ensure, as much as possible, the privacy of the subjects in front of cameras. Several years ago, window blanking was implemented on pan/tilt/zoom (p/t/z) cameras as a way to obscure sections in view of a camera. This became a mandatory feature on p/t/z cameras in some applications, one example being the UK. 

Some megapixel cameras now are also offering some form of window blanking feature. The question is does it go far enough? Anyone with administrative access to the camera can turn this off, and we all know how many people change the admin password, right?

We need to make sure that the push for privacy doesn’t go so far that it makes video technology unusable, but we also need to be somewhat sensitive to the average citizen’s concerns. Generally this is a function of education, but that message doesn’t always get out to the crowds.

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Steve Payne is an independent consultant and owner of Convergence Consulting, an IP and security solutions consulting firm. He can be reached at [email protected].

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