Surveillance on rise, and so are concerns

SAN FRANCISCO -- In recent weeks there have been a growing number of incidents involving video surveillance cameras -- ranging from the mother who was recorded hitting her 4-year-old daughter in an Indiana parking lot to a man who filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against the Marriott hotel chain after discovering a video camera hidden in a bathroom light fixture. The increasing reliance on surveillance is giving some of the pioneers of the video camera industry second thoughts.

"I have lots of worries about how this technology is being used," said John Graham, who is the founder of BroadWare Technologies, a Cupertino, Calif., maker of software for video camera networks, and who was one of the first researchers to send audio and video over the Internet. "I've become Big Brother, but I didn't mean to be," Graham said. "It's just that there's no money in education or scientific collaboration."

In New York, the Surveillance Camera Players, a guerrilla theater troupe, is placing maps of video camera locations on the Internet and staging brief politically inspired performances in front of the cameras. One person who said he has seen the group perform is Brian Curry, the chief executive and founder of EarthCam, based in New York, which makes surveillance camera systems and operates a network of seven cameras aimed at Times Square that constantly beam video images over the Internet.

"We're offering a window on the world that is very much like sitting in a restaurant and looking out on the street," he said. "To try to inhibit this by saying it represents a brave new society where people are losing their privacy is far-fetched." That is not the view of a group of privacy advocates in Washington, who are suing the Metropolitan Police Department under the Freedom of Information Act to force disclosure of technical information about a network of video cameras that has been established in the city.

(Writer unknown, published in the 7 October 2002 issue of the The Chicago Tribune.)

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