Smile! You’re On Big Brother’s Crime-Fighting Camera!


Do you every have that cringing fear that there are a pair of eyes always watching you? Well, that feeling you are experiencing is most likely right, as there is a high chance you really are being watched. This issue arises from the video surveillance cameras that we see and don’t see! The topic of CCTV cameras really grabbed my attention early. CCTV cameras or “closed Circuit Television refers to a visible or covert video system intended for only a limited number of viewers. In Closed Circuit TV (CCTV), the picture is viewed or recorded, but not broadcast”(source).

I find these cameras especially appealing as I am very interested in the area of crime and criminal justice. This form of law enforcement started in the United Kingdom in 1986 with three cameras within a 1-square mile radius. In England today, they have more CCTV cameras when compared to any other country in the world. I have become very fascinated with the ways in which video surveillance is being used to deter crime from occurring, along with catching individuals in the act. A large percentage of cities have, or are beginning to install these closed-circuit television cameras. Police monitor the videos in an effort to prevent crime and catch lawbreakers in the act. You have most likely seen these cameras as many of them are not exactly meant to be inconspicuous. Their goal is to let you know that you are being closely watched and your actions are subsequently being recorded. With the dramatic increase in computer technology and continuous prevalence of crime, the never-blinking eyes of Big Brother are now, more than ever coming to streets, stores, and more near you! In the end, how can we utilize CCTV cameras in conjunction with the current crime prevention measures in order to ensure a safer society for all?

The Birth of Big Brother… WARNING: You are being watched!

I don’t know about you, but the thought of potentially having my every move being watched really creeps me out. However, I began to look at the ways in which playing Big Brother could actually help many individuals feel at ease about going out in public, along with feeling, and actually being more protected from becoming victims of all sorts of crimes. For years there has existed surveillance cameras in businesses such as banks or casinos in order to prevent crimes, or after the matter, locate someone who has stolen something from a store. These days, those surveillance cameras seem pretty amateur to the current computer advancements that are out there now. Regardless, by placing CCTV cameras around the streets in numerous cities it may aid in catching some individuals in the act, or have individuals at the most, think twice before committing a crime.

CCTV Camera Effectiveness:

To measure the success rate of police surveillance cameras preventing crime is an extremely tough process as it includes a vague set of variables. We cannot be one hundred percent sure that these cameras stop someone from deciding to commit a crime. There are additional factors such as the “season, economy or other law enforcement tactics can also have an influence” (source).

Police however; believe that by using these cameras as a security measure does in fact deter crimes at a particular moment from occurring. Taking that outlook on things, I personally come to feel that having these cameras isn’t so bad after all. The real question then lies on whether having these cameras present actually will deter individuals from participating in criminal conduct. This is where I stand on the fence in regards to this matter. I tend to hold the view that those individuals who are out there committing crimes, or thinking about committing crimes have a specific mindset and will do so regardless of whether a camera is watching them or not. In all truthfulness, although we would like to believe that the installment of these cameras will deter crime and evidently protect us, CCTV cameras have been shown to not deter crime at this current time in society. This raises the question then of why are these cameras still being used if their main goal of preventing crime has not been reached? How about putting forward the idea that perhaps these cameras to not prevent crime per say, but they may assist individuals in solving a crime more efficiently. And while I still feel uneasy about these cameras invaded our privacy, by looking at it from the viewpoint of cameras assisting officers in catching individuals who are captured on film.

On the upside… a huge advantage of CCTV cameras is that it can help lower the amount of racial profiling that occurs within some police departments. This is an ongoing issue within the theme of police and society and perhaps these cameras can help in catching criminals, while also keeping the protection of the public a priority. The technology in the camera itself is able to recognize faces therefore, alleviating the potential for officer bias during their investigation.

NYPD Example:

It’s the same old NYPD… only now they have a new crime fighting technology to help them from being dominated by the bad guys. Throughout Hollywood movies and television shows, there has always existed an aspiration to fight crime in society with the help of computer technology. And while many of these ingenious plans do not work out or are too far fetched, it seems as though we are getting closer to this future of crime fighting technology than ever before! I know when I watch shows such as criminal minds and CSI I am always amazed by the technology that they use in their crime labs but think to myself they don’t exist and are just to add dramatic affect. After learning more about CCTV cameras I am beginning to think that technology such as those portrayed on TV is not that far into the future after all. This particular technology has been created “by cops, for cops” and this particular system is only activated once a crime has been committed, therefore there are no peering eyes constantly monitoring screens.

One of the technology giants Microsoft has also started a partnership with the NYPD which launched an all-seeing Big Brother crime and terrorism prevention system. The Domain Awareness System is a software used to “suck in, analyze, connect dots and otherwise monitor data that is constantly collected and stored in a database. This is data that would be comparable to ones found in license plate monitoring and CCTV”(source). We could almost call it a”Minority Report crime fighting surveillance system”(source). It would appear to show a substantial resemblance to the hologram data screens that Tom Cruz used in the fictional film Minority Report, which seemed very futuristic, and indeed the future is now here. Microsoft has without a doubt become one of the world’s top providers for “integrated intelligence solutions for police departments and security agencies”(source).

Concerns of life inside a fish bowl:

While CCTV cameras may be helping to deter some forms of crime, we must keep in mind the feelings of those individuals who are concerned with being recorded as they go throughout their daily lives. This is where a very fine line tends to be drawn. We want to ensure that we (the public) are protected at all times, or when possible, but at the same time we do not want to have all eyes on us. In other words, for many, you can’t eat your cake and have it to when it comes to CCTV cameras.

Have they taken it too far?

While they are numerous reports on the effectiveness of these cameras there are also those arguing the other side. American’s in particular find that this form of crime prevention measures violates the Constitution. Skeptics are also concerned about police becoming ‘peeping toms’ specifically zoning in on “woman and minorities rather than criminals” (source). For the most part however, it is reassuring to know that police departments designate officers to watch live footage and there actually exists scarce instances of misuse of the surveillance. Damien Gayle wrote a great piece on Google’s new spy software and introduces us to the critics it has received. One of the main concerns is that the government will be able to use the information as a means of “monitoring and tracking people online to detect signs of dissent” (source).

Another example of whether CCTV camera use has gone too far can be best shown as they are being used in school changing rooms and toilets. While I’m not too sure where you might stand on this as an issue, but I personally find this to be a little too much invasion of our privacy and would certainly leave me uneasy about going to these places and wondering whose eyes are watching me! However, playing a little bit of the devil’s advocate here, I guess you could say that by installing more of these cameras inside schools could actually be doing good and leave many students not feeling worried about getting bullied or jumped for their valuables. Personally, if I were on a school campus and something were to happen to me I would want surveillance of that incident so that the person would get caught for what they did. This is where it is hard to draw the line, I wan’t my privacy but then I also want to be safe in my surroundings.

Eye spy with my little eye…

Google has introduced its latest software that “mines through data across social networks and “tracks people’s movements and even predict future behaviour”(source). Predicting the future?? COOL! Personally, with the implementation of software such as this it seems to be going against our civil liberties as human beings along with a large invasion of our privacy and what we do or say on social networking sites. This software will also be able to use information it obtains from Facebook along with a GPS tracking device taken from Foursquare which more than 25 million people worldwide use to share their locations with friends. Surveillance “already exercises a ‘chilling effect’ over basic freedoms- this can only make things a great deal worse’”(source). Police officers will use this software not only for crime investigation purposes but also with the hopes of stopping crime and disorderly conduct before it even takes place.

Unsuccessful tale of CCTV cameras in the UK:

CCTV cameras saw a significant boom but hasfailed to slash crime in the UK. In London, only 3% of street robberies were solved using CCTV images notwithstanding the fact that Britain has more cameras than any other country. These cameras were put in the UK to be used a preventative measure and they were supposed to invoke fear, but people are just simply not fearing them. By posting the pictures obtained from CCTV cameras this may have criminals thinking twice if these cameras are proven to be effective. I believe if handled correctly, these cameras can be effective at preventing some criminals, and some preventative measure is better than none at all right? The Toronto Star article really drives home the idea that many are up in debate over when they state that  “we encourage them, whoever they are, to only use CCTV as a last resort when other methods to combat serious public disorder have not proved effective,” he said”(source).

Predicting crime, say it ain’t so!

Numerous police departments in the United States are using “IBM predictive analytics technology which may help – by predicting where crimes might occur”(source). And while it sure sounds like a scene out of the previously mentioned fictional film, The Minority Report , however, predictive analytics technology being used to combat crime is already being used. Researchers are aiming to come up with a software that identifies crime-prone cities. This particular software will help “police to recognize patterns and determine a city’s criminal ‘hotspots’ – to then patrol them more than others, deploy traffic enforcement and launch targeted operations,” says IBM’s Ron Fellows(source)

They’ll Be Watching You…

“You’re automatically a person of interest”(source).

“This is Big Brother on steroids!”(source).


Just a short video to keep you on track with my blog and potentially really creep you out about the wandering eyes of Big Brother and what may be next in line for this type of technology!!!

Breaking News!

Most of my mornings involve waking up and checking my twitter feed to update me on the latest news. I am following CTV news on twitter and came across a fascinating article on police identifying the suspect involved in subway train stabbing just last night. I thought to myself, wow this really can’t tie in any better to my blog topic of CCTV cameras. Just the next day (today), police officers were able to identify the suspect through a series of images that were captured on video by a closed-circuit camera. After watching the short news clip at the beginning of the article, the interviewer asks citizens right off the street how the feel about this incident. This really opened my eyes to the safety issues that surround cities such as Toronto. What I also found quite interesting was a TTC representative speaking on how these occurrences are “rare” and the cost is substantial to have someone monitoring this form of technology closely. He suggests that money, along with the resources would be better spent in a different sector. Personally, this news article to me, shows the significant impact that CCTV cameras can have on a case such as this. Police are now in possession of a number of photos of the suspect, have put the description out from them, and are currently on the lookout for their suspect. Meanwhile, the public also has access to these images as they are displayed on their televisions, online, or in newspapers. This is just further helping in having CCTV cameras gain a lot of respect in helping the police solve crime. And while this crime was not prevented by this camera, we can only hope that this suspect will be caught and evidently charged as a result of his horrific crime that unfortunately for him was caught on film.

After reading this blog and watching the two videos after the jump I ask,  YOU BE THE JUDGE! 

Part 1:

“Do we gain safety by loosing privacy, and how do we measure the payoff?”(source).

“Is it a placebo, do cameras just give us a false sense of security?”(source).

“If it is used properly it can be a proactive tool”(source).

Part 2:

“We live in a culture that we are overexposed to it [being on camera]”(source).

“If the crime is going to be committed and the cameras there, they will just move out of the range of the camera”(source).

“Right now these cameras are so dependent on human intervention”(source).

…Now I don’t know about you but after watching those two short segments I have not only learned a lot more about CCTV cameras but also some of the downsides that come with the upsides of these cameras. There still seems to be a discrepancy not only between the guests in the interview, but we could also say the members of society at large. Once we begin seeing a larger percentage of crimes being stopped and solved by these cameras is when the popularity of them will rise and individuals will be able to feel more comfortable with Big Brother watching them if it is for the betterment of society.


Whatever the methods may be, we seem to be drawing closer to the crime control that we see in glamorized television shows and the infamous movies such as The Minority Report. With the billions of dollars that go into these mechanical eyes, it really gets us asking ourselves do they really curb crime? As mentioned previously, this really depends on who you are. If you ask those enforcing the law of course their general consensus will be that it does and will cite drops in violent crime to back them up. However, many other individuals would tend to say otherwise and find that they are not doing a good enough job in preventing high percentages of crime and the invasion of the public’s privacy is really at risk. The eyes of Big Brother leave many law-abiding citizens in society feeling uncomfortable and questioning whether their civil liberties are being invaded as a result. On the other end, do we look at the bigger picture and view Big Brother as our protector?  I leave you to think about that!

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