Breaking The Law: Question The CCTV/Surveillance Expert

Q Has the security industry had any legal issues and resolutions with the use of covert security cameras recently?

A Yes, the industry has reached a legal agreement in the State of New York. The background of the incident involves a New York State retailer who sold covert smoke detector CCTV cameras over the Internet and through a catalog business. A local New York fire marshal notified the retailer that the installation of non-working smoke detection was in violation of the State of New York Fire Code.

The retailer did not follow the local fire marshal's advise to remove the covert smoke detectors from its offerings and the State of New York Attorney General, Elliot Spitzer, was contacted to investigate. After some legal issues were discussed, an agreement was reached: the retailer paid the state a civil penalty fine of $1,500 and recalled the previously sold covert smoke detector items.

Fake video smoke detectors were also a part of the "Stephanie Law" enacted last year in New York. It was in response to a housing landlord who was secretly videotaping a female tenant using the fake smoke detector as the CCTV camera.

This was considered "Video Voyeurism," which is the use of a mechanical, digital or electronic device to capture visual images of another person in a place where that person has reasonable expectation to privacy. Criminal penalties will be imposed for the misuse treatment of CCTV.

With the many supply sources of CCTV, including cell phones and various applications to video over the Internet, Ethernet, etc., we'll see more legal cases being brought against the parties who misuse the technology.

Cable Confusion
Q Cable specifications for CCTV and audio always seem to be at question. How do I evaluate and interpret the systems requirements?

A You need to read the recommended manufacturer requirements in the product manuals and interpret cable specifications. Important information includes: AWG, which indicates the amount of power that can be transmitted. This is affected by length and the device current draw being installed. To calculate the length, power and signal loss requires the use of charts and calculations which are provided by the National Electrical code, as well industry electrical manuals.

Some wire manufacturers and distributors will assist you in the distance, power and signal loss calculation. When the application calls for audio cable, pay close attention to shielded and unshielded equipment cable requirements. Make sure you identify the drain ground cable, if included; and ground the cable as instructed by the manufacturer.

Where to Put It
Q What is your recommendation on perimeter exterior camera placement?

A Camera placement and preferred views partially will be determined by the physical size of the area to be viewed. Your selection of lens, lighting and local obstructions will be a consideration. An important issue is to keep the intruder in view. If the intruder can easily hide behind objects and obstructions, the system will be less reliable. Avoid windows, moving objects, steep ground grades and select camera views that give an accurate view of the people.

Down Right Reprehensible
Q What is color quantization and when is it used?

A A full-color 24 bit per pixel is required in the digital world for a full picture. Videos capture boards and CD chips may not have the capability of processing 24 bit pixels. Usually, they may use only 8 pixels. To view a full color picture, the computer chooses an appropriate set of reprehensive colors, not the full 24 pixels. This process is called "color quantization." The industry is working to increase the number of pixels to improve picture quality.

Dazzling Possibilities
Q Why is CMOS Technology important to CCTV systems?

A The dynamic range capabilities of CMOS technology allows advanced imaging products to automatically adjust to variable, real-world lighting conditions, making it ideal for security and surveillance.

This type of technology provides high-speed frame rate and ensures enhanced detail as moving pictures are captured. The integration of sensors and processors within the technology enables the creation of very small cameras that can be deployed in security applications. The technology affords true "camera-on-a-chip" solutions. For example, a DPS sensor with a small RISC processor can perform image reconstruction, color processing and JPEG compression at video frame rates prior to data output. DPS technology promises great advances in consumer electronics as well, and will be incorporated into digital video and still cameras, giving users the ability to capture realistic, detailed images even in low-light. Eventually, Internet devices will let consumers capture high-quality digital images and transmit them instantaneously anywhere.

John W. Colley is president of Integrated Security Systems, Ltd. Colley has been in the security industry for 25 years, beginning his experience in the CCTV segment of security and gaining knowledge through field experience, manufacturer training and designing systems to meet customer needs. Colley started his security integration firm 16 years ago, providing design, engineering, installation and service to commercial accounts using integrated systems. Send your CCTV/Surveillance questions to