Private Eyes are Watching You

Oct. 27, 2008
Video and privacy: What are your options?

The use of CCTV and video surveillance in public areas in recent years has led to the documentation of many high-profile criminal acts.
Cameras at Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC, provided chilling video of four 9/11 hijackers as they passed through security checkpoints to board the ill-fated American Airlines flight 77 in 2001.

Many still remember the appalling footage of Madelyne Toogood shaking and hitting her four-year-old daughter as she stood next to her SUV in the parking lot of a Kohl’s department store in Mishawaka, IN. The surveillance video helped police gather vital details about the vehicle, which led to an identification of the woman and her ultimate arrest.

Another unforgettable scene caught by CCTV: the abduction of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia at a car wash in Sarasota, FL. NASA enhanced the video of that incident to assist the FBI and police in her abductor’s identification and arrest.

Even our local news regularly plays video of crimes captured on surveillance systems and appeals to the public for its help in identifying and locating the perpetrators.
Video surveillance has served well in catching the bad guys, but the public has become understandably wary that the eye of security is also watching them—in malls, parking lots, schools, parks, at the movie theater and even on neighborhood sidewalks.

Not Just a Public Issue
Security has always had to broker tradeoffs between privacy in public areas and surveillance to ensure public safety and deter crime. However, when surveillance creeps into private areas or areas where an expectation of privacy is assumed, the public’s concern grows. Consider the camera that monitors streets for crime or that watches the perimeter of an office building, but in so doing also provides views into windows of a nearby home or hotel room or a residential backyard.

Also keep in mind that privacy concerns aren’t limited to the individuals being viewed or recorded. The security officer monitoring the cameras must be considered as well. Does the field of view of a particular camera capture images or action that may make the monitor feel uncomfortable or harassed? A camera that pans across a street and captures a gentleman’s club, adult video store or suggestive billboard ad can be upsetting to the security officer responsible for monitoring that camera’s display. It could also provide ammunition in some instances for a wider allegation of sexual harassment or hostile working conditions.
How can you address such concerns over privacy in surveillance?

Camera Placement Protects Privacy
Carefully consider the placement of each camera to avoid privacy issues. The purpose of each camera—to ensure public safety, deter crime, capture potential crime and encourage law-abiding behavior—should be weighed against any competing privacy issues that may exist or may arise.

Evaluate the placement of cameras that monitor the entrances to a building or that scan the perimeter of a facility. Does any camera’s coverage provide visual access to a private area or an area in which people may have the expectation of privacy? Be aware if, for instance, your cameras see into windows of homes or hotels, or private property or backyard swimming pools.

In the office setting, consider how employees may react to cameras in work areas, cubicles and break areas where they believe they are separate or exempt from the watchful eye of their employer.

Camera placement in public areas, such as in parks or department stores, should be designed to ensure that areas with an expectation of privacy—such as dressing rooms and restrooms—are kept private. Reviewing the viewable areas of cameras on a routine basis can ensure public privacy even as the landscape changes, such as when new development or construction changes cameras’ views.

Once you determine the field of view for each camera, password-protect the video management and recording systems to restrict system changes and thereby lock in the camera view. Protect these passwords with the same diligence you use to protect access passwords for the corporate database.

Masking to Hide Private Zones
In many instances, privacy can be maintained through careful camera placement. However, sometimes the surveillance of private space is unavoidable. Camera manufacturers have recognized this dilemma, and many now offer privacy masking as a solution.

Privacy masking allows you to identify an area within the camera’s field of view and place a black mask over the portion that is not to be monitored. This mask is then fixed over the specific area of view regardless of whether the field changes, so the use of pan, tilt or zoom features will not compromise the mask placement.
The area defined by privacy masking can be recorded with the masking as well, so the area will appear blackened on the recording playback. An administrator can password-protect the settings to ensure that other security operators are not able to alter the privacy masking zone or settings.

Protection Against Unlawful Dissemination
Technological advances have brought new privacy challenges to the surveillance market. Concern now extends beyond the actual viewing and recording of video to the dissemination of recorded images.

In the days of VCRs, very little impeded the duplication of video. Cassettes could easily, with the right machinery, be duplicated en masse and distributed. DVRs feature additional controls to prevent anyone without the proper software and the necessary passwords from accessing and playing back recorded video. However, DVRs usually include CD or DVD burners that may not be as strongly protected, so someone with basic technical knowledge and access to the system may be able to easily duplicate the video.

The security industry’s move towards flexible video accessibility further complicates the issue. Video is now transmittable and available via an Internet connection, which may make it vulnerable to hackers. A disgruntled employee could also sell access through the Internet, thereby sharing the video with countless people.
The shift towards recording at the camera itself also presents some issues for ensuring the public’s privacy rights. Surveillance units that record at the camera include a memory card or some form of memory chip. If the camera is stolen or if someone gains access to the memory chip or card, the perpetrator may be able to access and duplicate any data located on the unit.

Again, manufacturers and many technology users are ahead of the game, already incorporating additional safeguards into products and implementations. Encryption, IP address filtering and other options help guard video against network breaches. (To see how some manufacturers are helping their customers protect their video, see the privacy features matrix that begins on page 66 of the October print issue.)

Keep Pressure On
While responsible camera placement and privacy masking features do not guarantee that public surveillance will stay out of the private sphere, they do set a precedent in the industry for the recognition of privacy concerns. Pressure on manufacturers to provide products that take these concerns into account will be vital in order to ensure that sufficient measures are taken to offer additional privacy features in future products.

Kira El Boury is a project consultant for Aggleton & Associates Inc. Since joining the security industry in 2001, Ms. El Boury has been involved in conducting facility physical and operational security assessments and advising on mitigation strategies for security vulnerabilities. She has advised on security staffing levels and has managed contract guard force procurements, to include RFP development and bid review, and has assisted clients seeking grants by providing comprehensive and strategic security plans for state and federal submission. Ms. El Boury also has experience in developing client-specific guard force training materials based on a thorough evaluation of a client’s procedural requirements.