Faking It with Big Brother Video Surveillance

Jan. 7--Residents along E. Stewart Avenue east of Schiller Park thought three surveillance cameras that mysteriously appeared on telephone poles last month were watching them.

But it now looks like it was just the residents who were watching the cameras.

The cameras match the design of a fake outdoor surveillance camera widely available on the Internet, right down to the "authentic video cable which imitates high cost" and the "dissuasive flashing red LED light."

They're basically real camera housings without the electronics, costing about $70 each. In the case of the German Village units, the "authentic" cords are plugged into the side of wooden telephone poles.

Katharine Moore, executive director of the German Village Society, told The Dispatch last week that she knew who put up the cameras and was certain the units were fully functioning.

"This is a great way to have a second set of eyes," she said at the time.

But yesterday, when told the units matched the phony cameras, Moore backed off the statement.

"I thought they were real, but I've learned that they may not be," she said.

Using fake cameras to give the impression of real surveillance at a fraction of the cost is nothing new.

"There is no need to store video images," and they are "low maintenance," explains one advertisement.

Whatever they are, or aren't, the cameras, which are on a stretch of Stewart in German and Merion villages, are coming down. The city will remove them within days because they are illegally attached to city telephone poles, utilities spokesman Rick Tilton said.

Moore said yesterday that she won't reveal who put up the units, because that person could be subject to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine for tampering with city property.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.