Does Video Surveillance Threaten Privacy?

Author: John Honovich, Published on Feb 11, 2009

The most pervasive criticism of video surveillance is the risk of destroying privacy -- that video surveillance will become Big Brother, enabling the government to spy on anyone, anywhere.

These concerns continue in the UK with a recent report by the House of Lords criticizing video surveillance's increasing risks to privacy. The Guardian offers an overview of the Report and lists key criticisms.

Let me open this for a discussion with one thought:

People grossly overestimate the power of video surveillance to track details of an individual across time and places.

This is a comic book capability, found only in movies and vendor marketing brochures, but not feasible in real deployments. It's simulateonusly beyond todays' even cutting edge technology and, even if it was possible, it would be impossible to broadly roll it out (without spending billions on upgrades, etc.).

In reality, we live in a world of tens of millions of dumb cameras that are isolated into hundreds of thousands of isolated islands. The technology that is available does not perform well at scale and cannot be deployed without a massive and almost complete overhaul of video surveillance as we know it.

It is reasonable for people to be concerned about their privacy but we need to base such concerns on implementable technology that could actually undermine privacy, not science fiction.

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