Private Surveillance of Public Spaces

Author: Ethan Ace, Published on Feb 21, 2012

While public surveillance systems get most of the attention, private surveillance cameras surely solve far more crimes than public ones. This is not only inevitable but perhaps even a growing trend featured in recent news articles, in some cases even encouraged by police. Indeed, cooperation between public entities and private surveillance systems is increasing.

In this update, we examine the drivers of this trend, potential issues, and considerations for those evaluating deployment of private systems such as these.

Background

Even large municipal systems with millions of people typically have no more than thousands of public surveillance cameras. By contrast, private organizations, whether retailers, businesses or homeowners likely have ten times the amount of cameras monitoring public areas (sidewalks, streets, intersections, parking lots, etc.). This is inevitable as suveillance cameras have become standard in most private organizations.

Drivers

Relative to public systems, we see two key drivers for the increase in private surveillance systems:

  • Reduction in public budgets: The post 9/11 public surveillance spending bubble has largely popped, leaving many municipalities without additional funds and limiting the reach of systems which have been implemented. Encouraging homeowners and neighborhood groups to fund surveillance systems is a logical action for municipalities.
  • Reduction in cost of surveillance systems: Historically, even low-cost DVRs and IP cameras have been more expensive than is palatable for most residential users. However, with the quality of low-cost gear improving, and prices continuing to come down, more homeowners are looking into installing their own systems.

There are a number of factors which must be considered in these public/private partnerships, to protect privacy, respect policy, and keep the system workable.

Who Has Access?

First and foremost is the question of who has access to live and archived video, and when. In the case of a single private residence, this is pretty cut and dry: the homeowner has complete control over these decisions. Homeowners may still wish to inform police they have installed a surveillance system, along with their contact information, for investigative purposes. Some police departments track this information, so they know where cameras are located in the area of a crime, for potential investigation.

In the case of neighborhood associations, the issue of access becomes more complex. In one case, neighborhood members planned to watch each others' cameras, installed on separate surveillance systems. In some cases, the organization may choose to install a single large system, giving access to multiple members. In still other cases, the group may instead fund cameras being added to a municipal surveillance system.

There is no right answer to who should have access to these systems. It depends on factors such as the relationships between neighbors and between neighborhood groups and the police. It also depends on the technical competancies of all parties involved. In general, however, we would imagine that police departments with public surveillance systems may desire access to at least some of these cameras to bolster their own system, depending on quality and location. This presents the issue of compatibility, however.

Compatibility

If entities other than the homeowner plan to view a private surveillance system, compatibility is a concern. With so many low-cost DVR and IP camera brands available, monitoring multiple systems can very well require a difference client for each. For neighborhood groups who wish to view cameras from multiple residencess (such as this group in New Orleans), or for police departments who wish to have access to residential systems, this is a major issue.

This is one area where IP cameras have an advantage over DVRs. Very few VMS platforms allow for viewing of video from DVRs, and typically those that do are integrated more to higher-end units, not recorders which would be likely to fit into residential spaces. In contrast, most VMS systems support hundreds of models of IP cameras, and models which aren't supported may often be integrated via generic drivers or RTSP streaming.

Realistically, it is extremely unlikely that any platform will support 100% of devices which the user may want to view. PSIM is regularly put forward as a solution to these problems of interoperability, but with budgets shrinking, driving this trend, and PSIM routinely priced in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, it seems an unlikely solution. Lower-cost PSIM offerings such as SureView's Immix may be justifiable, if the gain in camera coverage warrants it.

Maintenance

We suspect that many homeowners may be unaware of the need for ongoing maintenance of their surveillance system, instead thinking of the system as set-it-and-forget-it. This reduces the chances of usable video being provided. Domes and camera housings get dirty. Lens may lose focus over time, and cameras may drift from their original position. Hard drive failures may go undetected. All of these factors must be considered, or the system is reduced to little more than good intentions.

Bypassing Public Policy

While most issues in this discussion are of a purely technical nature, one major political issue exists. With police encouraging homeowners and other groups to install cameras on private property, concerns have been raised about these systems bypassing public policies which have been put in place, governing camera placement, use, and retention times. It is doubtful that most municipalities have any policies governing private use of surveillance. This raises the question of whether police agendas are being forwarded through private means, with cameras deployed where they were previously denied, or prohibited by policy.

On the flip side, this also raises the question of how much authority government holds over surveillance systems installed on private property. Commercial entities have generally been unregulated in their use of surveillance systems. A change in policy for residential systems, due to this increasing trend, may lead to decisions affecting all private surveillance systems.

Moving Forward

We believe that installation of surveillance systems on private property, yet monitoring public areas, will continue to grow. Ultimately, this can be a good thing. Cooperation between public and private entities serves as a sort of force multiplier, with surveillance systems potentially deterring criminal acts, and assisting in investigations. However, care needs to be taken in deciding who has access and when, and to ensure that the spirit of policies governing surveillance is respected.

Comments : PRO Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

Remote Video Monitoring Providers Directory on May 21, 2017
Remote video monitoring can help integrators generate RMR plus end users lower their security costs and/or improve response to critical...
ShotSpotter To IPO, Facing Low Revenue and Losses on May 17, 2017
A rare event for North American security manufacturers is upcoming. ShotSpotter is planning to IPO on the NASDAQ, aiming to raise $34.5...
Shark Tank Startup Guard Llama Mobile Panic Tested on May 16, 2017
A Shark Tank TV show appearance has attracted big attention for Guard Llama, a security startup touting a 'panic button' paired with mobile app...
Selling and Valuing Security Integrators on May 12, 2017
This ia a tutorial in how to (1) determine your security integrator's value and (2) to sell your security integrator. If you own an integrator,...
Burglar Alarm Partitions Guide on May 10, 2017
Many burglar alarm systems have a single designated level of access for users. A user can arm or disarm the entire alarm by entering a single code....
Arming States For Burglar Alarms on May 04, 2017
Burglar alarms give the user the ability to choose how much of their alarm is active at any time. Activating alarm sensors on windows and...
Mobile Video Installation Statistics on May 02, 2017
Mobile video systems - those mounted on buses, trains, cars, boats, etc. - are a niche within video surveillance with its own particular...
Duress Codes For Alarms Systems on May 02, 2017
An alarm system can call for help in the event of an attempted break in, but only if it is armed. If an adversary forces an authorized user to...
Burglar Alarm Zoning Guide on Apr 28, 2017
The function of an alarm panel is to gather information from sensors and respond to this information by triggering actions. While it is possible to...
A Marketing Home Run For Knightscope - Man Attacks Robot on Apr 27, 2017
We criticize Knightscope regularly - their lack of revenue, their trying to fool mom 'n pop investors, their associating themselves with a clueless...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Avigilon New COO James Henderson Profile on May 23, 2017
It has been nearly 2 years since the infamous Bryan Schmode 'resigned' as Avigilon COO. Now, Avigilon once again has a COO, promoting James...
Aura's 'Invisible Ripple' Next Gen Intrusion Detection Tested on May 22, 2017
Aura Home is a startup intrusion detection system, but it claims new, high-tech sensing that monitors the 'invisible ripples' movement creates,...
Pelco Shutting Down Clovis Line, Laying Off 200 on May 22, 2017
Pelco's Clovis facility once turned out some of the industry's most popular products. Now, the facility is mostly building "obsolete" equipment,...
IP Camera - 15 Year Shootout on May 22, 2017
How far have IP cameras come? We bought and tested 4 cameras across the past 15 years to understand how much and where performance has...
Remote Video Monitoring Providers Directory on May 19, 2017
Remote video monitoring can help integrators generate RMR plus end users lower their security costs and/or improve response to critical...
Axis Criticizes OEMs: "When You Buy An Axis Camera, An Axis Camera Is What You Get!" on May 19, 2017
When you buy a Honeywell camera, you likely get a Hikvision, Dahua or some other company's product. The same goes for easily 100 different...
Hackable 125kHz Access Control Migration Guide on May 19, 2017
Despite being one of the most popular credentials, 125 kHz credentials are easily copied and insecure as we showed in our test results, video...
Forget The Backdoor, "ALL HIKVISION PRODUCTS" On Sale on May 18, 2017
Less than 2 weeks after the Hikvision Backdoor was confirmed, Hikvision has launched a sale "ON ALL HIKVISION PRODUCTS". In this note, we examine...
Amazon Techs Installing IP Cameras Tested on May 18, 2017
In 2015, Amazon started offering video surveillance installation. Now, Amazon has made it a lot easier, with automatic add-on options and...

The world's leading video surveillance information source, IPVM provides the best reporting, testing and training for 10,000+ members globally. Dedicated to independent and objective information, we uniquely refuse any and all advertisements, sponsorship and consulting from manufacturers.

About | FAQ | Contact