Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The Myth of the Surveillance Cameras

Mainstream media continues to inculcate upon the public of the supposed public safety expediencies from surveillance cameras.

Steve Chapman at the Reason.org puts into perspective its efficacies.

One cherry picking of instances doesn’t imply effectiveness
There is no doubt that the cameras were a big help this time. But that doesn't mean they are generally a good idea -- much less a crucial tool in fighting terrorism and crime.

Surveillance cameras were originally touted as a strong deterrent, scaring away bad guys fearful of being caught on tape. But these devices have a disappointing record in action. In some places, they noticeably reduce crime. In others, they have the same effect as a potted plant.

In the Boston bombings, the cameras utterly failed in their preventive function. Not only did the bombings occur; they occurred in perhaps the most heavily photographed spot in America that day. Besides the permanent video cameras in operation, hundreds of spectators with cellphones were eagerly capturing the scene.
I’d say that mainstream media has been engaged in deceitful framing or applying selective influence or manipulation of the public through survivorship bias or through selective reporting. In other words, the positive effects from the use of surveillance cameras are being broadcasted, but its negative effects have not been shown. 

The implied goal seems designed to reduce people’s resistance from being monitored.

Security expert Bruce Schneier also shares this view stating that “Pervasive security cameras don't substantially reduce crime”

Next, since cameras are economic goods, they are subject to diminishing returns.

Again Mr. Chapman
Putting video gear in areas that are obvious potential terrorist targets is one thing. Putting them on every corner of an entire city is another. Some places are enviably safe without surveillance, which means any cameras installed there should be color-coordinated, since they will be primarily decorative.

They will fall victim to the law of diminishing returns. If you put out a couple of mousetraps, you may catch some mice. If you put out dozens, you may not catch many more. The second 10,000 cameras won't add nearly as much crime-fighting value as the first 10,000 -- or possibly even the first 1,000.
Of course, once aware, fugitives are likely to move activities away from where these cameras are located, or that they may use various forms of concealment. 

In short, surveillance cameras works from an element of surprise. Take the surprise away, the camera losses its effectiveness. Again human action.

The next is opportunity costs or tradeoff from use of scarce resources.
One drawback is that taxpayers are not composed of cash. Buying a camera costs money; so does maintaining it and monitoring the images it generates. A dollar spent on surveillance video is a dollar that can't be spent on foot patrols, police training, DNA tests or streetlights.
Then there is the issue of the invasion of privacy.
Another is that cameras contribute greatly to the steady erosion of personal privacy. Americans are generally oblivious to this phenomenon because they are oblivious to the multitude of unblinking eyes watching them in the course of a day. If each of us had a little alarm that went off every time we came into camera range, we might be less agreeable to the monitoring.
This is not really just an American thing, but also applies elsewhere as it does the Philippines.
Finally promoting surveillance cameras as furtive ploys to establish the Orwellian “big brother’ state that destroys civil liberties.
Cameras may also soften us up for even deeper intrusions. If video feeds are so great, why not add audio? If you can stand being watched whenever you leave home, surely you won't mind if every word is heard as well. And how about a tiny drone hovering over your front door, round the clock -- for the rest of your life?

Enthusiasts for electronic surveillance may say: If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. But there's a reason people don't live in glass houses.
There is really nothing wrong with the private sector’s use of surveillance cameras, what is wrong is having to politicize them and use these as tools to advance despotism in the name of public safety.

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