Apologies to George Orwell, but according to a recent news poll from ABC News and the Washington Post, Americans are largely OK with being watched by video surveillance.
The two news organizations jointly conducted a small telephone poll of Americans July 18-21, 2007, to assess current opinions on public surveillance. Perhaps not surprisingly, considering that city surveillance projects seem to be coming out of the woodwork all the time, some 71 percent of Americans said they were in support of increasing use of surveillance cameras. The support was stronger in women than men, and among those with a college degree as opposed to those who had a high school education or less. Strongest support was found among seniors over the age of 80, while younger counterparts from Generation Y are not quite as warm to the idea of more cameras.
However, before we put cameras everywhere, says Fredrik Nilsson, general manager of Axis Communications, we have to take into account where they're going, because the public is indeed paying attention to these projects.
"In the governmental market it [public opinion] definitely affects the rate of adoption, since politicians are careful about pushing city center surveillance and cameras in subways, buses, etc., unless it is accepted by the public," said Nilsson. "In other vertical markets -- such as retail -- they are also sensitive to the view of the pubic. In airports and casinos, the view of the pubic is less important, which could also be an effect of the fact that surveillance has been used for a long time, and is expected, in those environments."
Others, however, aren't so sure that public opinion -- for or against -- will necessarily slow the rate of adoption for public surveillance.
"I don't believe that public opinion alone can really slow or speed the rate of adoption for municipal security systems," said Mariann McDonagh, senior vice president of corporate marketing for video surveillance and analytics firm Verint. "Although we have seen evidence that the American people are recognizing the need for better security and seem more willing to accept the required balance between safety, security and privacy -- especially in public places."
Panasonic Security's Group Manager of Marketing Julianna Benedick says that government leaders have to be an advocate for such projects and need to explain the reasoning behind these projects.
"It is the city and/or state or federal government's responsibility to help educate the population about the positive impact this technology has on their safety and security," said Benedick. "The emphasis has to be 'safety and security', not 'big brother'."
And while sentinel events like the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 attacks may have helped sway public opinion to be more supportive of wide surveillance camera networks, this spread of cameras isn't limited solely to the U.S.
According to Benedick, it's an international phenomenon that limits to police and security manpower are forcing municipalities to turn to the use of surveillance cameras. She also credits today's latest camera technologies, from image stabilization to camera intelligence and greater image range, as being central to increases in adoption.
While the UK has consistently been recognized as the international leader in surveillance cameras per capita, there are many other countries which are expanding their use of cameras.
"Even in a small city like Stockholm, a system with over 10,000 cameras is now being installed in the bus and subway system," noted Nilsson. McDonagh added that her firm has been seeing strong usage in Central and Latin America, where she says governments "have been pioneers in deploying video surveillance technology due to its dramatic impact on violent crime."