Prominent Blowhard Attacks Video Surveillance

By John Honovich, Published Mar 02, 2010, 07:00pm EST

Bruce Schneier's biases against surveillance cameras are clear, despite his lack of evidence. Schneier is an important public figure as he is one of the world's most cited people in security. While an undisputed scholar in cryptography, his historical rants against surveillance show little thought and analysis.

His most recent screed, featured on CNN, attacks surveillance cameras citing the Hamas assassination in Dubai. He boldly claims that the assasins, "make no effort to hide themselves from the cameras, sometimes seeming to stare directly into them. They obviously don't care that they're being recorded, and -- in fact -- the cameras didn't prevent the assassination, nor as far as we know have they helped as yet in identifying the killers."

First, faulting surveillance cameras to stop assassins is insane. Such people are willing to die and therefore will not be deterred by fear of future capture or having their picture taken. Only a small percentage of criminals have no fear of consequences. They are the most resistant to all forms of counter-measures but also the least common.

Secondly, those cameras in the hotel do not exist to stop assassins. Hotels use cameras for much more basic operational reasons such as checking on small disturbances, prostitution, drugs, employee misbehavior, etc. I am sure that hotel never designed the system to stop assassins nor would almost any hotel in the world. 

Third, the cameras provide indisputable evidence of the faces and appearances of the assassins which is important not only in tracking suspects but in eliminating doubt during trial.

Schneier goes on to argue that "the data are clear: CCTV cameras have minimal value in the fight against crime." To the contrary, as we investigated in our own more comprehensive analysis of studies, CCTV has proven value in public facilities for certain clearly defined roles. Secondly, the studies we examined were an average of 10 years old, reflecting far less powerful (and more expensive) technology than is available today.

Schneier dismisses the importance of private sector CCTV use: "Cameras aren't completely ineffective, of course ... sometimes it is cost-effective for a store to install cameras to catch shoplifters or a casino to install cameras to detect cheaters. But these are instances where there is a specific risk at a specific location." What Schneier misses is that the overwhelming majority of cameras are used by private sector organizations trying to deter, detect or solve specific incidents, including ironically the hotel in question in Dubai.

Thankfully the article received many negative comments from readers, reflecting a broader community that largely understands Schneier's criticisms are over the top.

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