NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Keeping An Eye On Security Cameras

September 30, 2002

With the recent arrest of a women in Indiana caught by a security camera beating her daughter in a parking lot, the presence of electronic eyes across America has drawn new attention.

  • Surveillance cameras are most often operated by private companies and private landowners -- but government agencies have been stepping up their own operations since Sept. 11.
  • Once confined to big cities and places like Times Square and the White House, they have proliferated and are now found in many a small town.
  • The Security Industry Association estimates that at least two million closed-circuit television system are in operation in the U.S.
  • A survey of Manhattan in 1998 by the American Civil Liberties Union uncovered 2,397 cameras fixed to places where people pass or gather -- with all but 270 of them being operated by private entities.

This shouldn't be surprising, according to one surveillance expert, who says there is a notion about private property deeply imbedded in American culture -- if you own it, you can do what you want to with it. However, some critics believe the web of private cameras should be as much a part of the civil liberties debate as the burgeoning use by government of surveillance cameras.

CCS International, a security and monitoring-services company, calculated last year that the average person was recorded 73 to 75 times a day in New York City.

Experts estimate that the digital video surveillance market is growing about 15 percent a year -- four times as fast as the security industry as a whole.

Source: Dean E. Murphy, "As Security Cameras Sprout, Someone's Always Watching," New York Times, September 29, 2002.


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