October 22, 2013

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Surveillance Cameras And Privacy: How To Reconcile The Two?

Surveillance cameras are everywhere we go. Most are at places we expect, such as airports, intersections, court houses, and schools. Others we find at unlikely places like the dentist’s office, doggie day care, and dry cleaners. And for anybody wanting an extra layer of protection at home, inexpensive wireless surveillance camera kits are available for purchase online. So it really should come as no surprise that from the time we leave our home in the morning, to the time we return, much of our activity has been recorded, presumably for public safety and security.

Privacy Policies For Surveillance Camera Data

Hearing first hand accounts from next-door neighbors who were at the finish line with their two teenagers during this year’s Boston Marathon bombing reminded me of how vulnerable we are in public places. Parking structures, ATMs, college campuses, and movie theatres, are just a few of the venues to worry about. Is it unreasonable to expect that the absence of surveillance cameras could compromise public safety, leading to increased crime? Probably, not.

Evidence of this was found in a 2011 study published by the Urban Institute Policy Center that measured significant crime changes in downtown Baltimore, Maryland after the installation of visible surveillance cameras, where there was a total 24.85% reduction in overall crime after only four months. (Source: Evaluating The Use Of Public Surveillance Cameras For Crime Control And Prevention)

Having said all that, the pervasive use of surveillance cameras and the storage of their data does raise some privacy concerns that are not addressed the similarly by companies and agencies.

  1. Are there privacy policies in place to protect recorded data from unauthorized access, use, or alteration?
  2. How long is recorded data archived (one year, ten years, forever)?
  3. Is surveillance data stored in a secure location?
  4. What is the data destruction policy?
  5. Is privacy being violated where we would have a reasonable expectation of privacy?
  6. Should there be a “standard” surveillance data privacy policy for both public agencies and private firms?

This is a lot to think about, but as savvy consumers and responsible citizens, we should know where our information is kept and how it’s used.

How do you reconcile the two: surveillance cameras and privacy?

Ezzy Languzzi

Ezzy is a working mother and educator. She writes from the perspective of a parent seeking to strike a balance between all that technology has to offer and its privacy implications. Ezzy lives in Boston with her husband, son, two dogs, and two chickens.

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