|Non-covert cameras are designed to create paranoia, not to catch criminals.
Looking Out For You
"We're looking out for you!" boasts a cheerful poster at a suburban shopping
mall, the powers that peek exulting in their triumph over their guests' personal liberties. No-one seems to
mind they're used to it.
Over the past decade, closed-circuit security camera systems have fallen drastically in price
and increased enormously in popularity. The term closed-circuit simply means that the signals picked up
by the cameras are not broadcast, but fed to monitors by wires. The main reason the spy camera industry is
booming so massively is that the technology of closed-circuit cameras has increased by leaps and bounds.
Gone are the bulky, low-resolution black-and-white surveillance systems most common in the 80s and
early 90s. Typical now are high-resolution, full-colour systems that function with cameras that fit in
the palm of one's hand.
In a manner horribly reminiscent of George Orwell's 1984, cameras are popping up in virtually all
public and semi-public areas, including government buildings, hotels, office towers, factories, recreation
centres, shopping malls and commercial enterprises of all varieties. The 1990s will most likely be the last
decade in which it feels unusual to be watched by a surveillance camera while indoors.
Increasingly, cameras are beginning to pop up outdoors. Roads have been watched for a while now,
with varying degrees of success. A more recent innovation is the surveillance of public walkways. I was
recently surprised to stumble upon a new "This Area Under Surveillance" sign while walking across the
York University campus. I was on the verge of dismissing the sign as a lie when I spotted the camera
peering down on me from far away atop the roof of a 15-storey building. I got chills. Factories, offices and
shopping centres have begun to add bionic eyes to the outsides of their buildings so they can peer out at
their surroundings, the latest development in the ongoing evolutionary process by which institutions shall
Surveillance is a sad fact of modern exploration so read carefully.
For the most part, the watchers are not subtle, nor do they appear to be ashamed of themselves. In fact, the
majority of cameras seem designed not to catch true criminals, who can easily spot the cameras and work
around them, but to intimidate ordinary people into being on their best behaviour.
The true purpose of non-covert cameras is made obvious by the very fact of their blatancy. One of the
most obvious examples is the incredibly popular tinted dome camera, which comes in a wide variety of
shapes and sizes, for mounting on walls or ceilings. Dome cameras give the impression of constant 360-
degree surveillance, but usually just contain a normal camera looking in one direction and struggling to
peer through the tinted glass. In unusual lighting conditions, one can see where the camera inside a dome
is pointing and sometimes the camera is aimed at a blank wall or staring off into space. Who knows if
these cameras are turned on or if they're even real?
Almost as bad are big bulky hanging cameras. In this age of cheap miniaturized electronics, these
ludicrous relics serve no purpose other than to exclaim their presence in the most obvious way possible.
Sometimes these will also feature blinking LEDs or even an accompanying monitor to further demonstrate
the fact that all who pass are being watched.
Only slightly less blatant than dome cameras and bulky hanging cameras are ceiling-mounted cameras,
which are possibly the most common variety. These cameras hang from ceilings inside triangular casings,
and often feature a red LED just to make sure they aren't too subtle.
An important skill for any urban explorer to acquire is Camera Awareness. One should always know
when one is being watched by a non-covert camera. Basically it's a simple matter of keeping your eyes on
the ceiling, as that's where almost all cameras are installed. For practice, play "spot the camera"
whenever you're out and about. You may be amazed.
|Covert cameras are so easily hidden that they could be watching at any time.
Covert cameras are the next big thing. Currently being pitched by surveillance companies across Canada
and the United States, these cheap, miniature spy cameras encourage paranoid shopkeepers and paranoid
bosses to install systems that will breed paranoid customers and paranoid employees.
Covert cameras are even more sinister than their sister species. Whereas non-covert cameras exist
largely to intimidate and create fear, covert cameras are truly designed to gather images and information
which private citizens would prefer to keep to themselves.
Criminals aren't the real target of these cameras. Companies such a 007-Eleven Security pitch such
merchandise as mirror cameras, smoke detector cameras, emergency light cameras, motion detector
cameras, clock cameras, phone cameras even duck-picture cameras, recommending employers use them to
keep an eye on employees and homeowners use them to keep an eye on babysitters. (The smoke detectors
don't actually work, incidentally, but at least you'll be able to capture the house burning down on film.)
Here's a secret not widely known all bank machines have cameras behind their screens, and every
transaction is recorded on film. (TVs that watch people, what a strange concept...)
In a world where a quality closed-circuit camera is the size of a microchip, it's almost impossible for
us to ever be sure we aren't being watched.
Don't Abandon All Hope
Of course, none of this is to say that should become so paranoid that you never again do anything outside
the privacy of your own darkened bathroom. To a tremendous extent, cameras exist not to monitor, but to
create an impression of monitoring. As any good agnostic knows, one cannot allow the impression of
constant surveillance to prevent one from having a good time.
Merchants across the nation are cheerfully lying to their customers with the full consent of the law.
Since real security systems are generally too expensive for most small shops, dummy cameras, which
retail for around $50, have become all the rage. These dummy camera systems generally include a supply
of signs stating that the premises are being monitored by closed-circuit television. Whereas the cameras
themselves are merely deceptive, the accompanying signs are flat out lies. In a bizarre twist on dystopian
science fiction, the powers that be are ridiculously eager to convince us that they are violating our privacy,
even though they aren't willing to shell out the cash to do it properly. In the near future we can expect to
see large signs in malls reading "Big Brother is watching you. Honest."
Fake dummy cameras aren't the only cameras to offer a false sense of security often, when proper
closed-circuit camera systems become obsolete or break (a fairly common occurrence when highly
sensitive electronics are left outside), the security departments don't bother fixing them. They're still
doing the job of intimidating people. After a recent incident at K-State campus in which a student assault
was not caught on film, security chief Robert Mellgren admitted that only two of the campus' 10 security
cameras were in working order. "Cameras don't protect people. People protect people," he explained, but
added "people are scared of being caught on camera."
In an interesting sidenote, courts have ruled that when cameras are in place, employees and customers
have a reasonable expectation that they are "being protected". If someone is injured during a crime in an
area "protected" by dummy cameras, the employer could very likely lose a costly security negligence
Many fully functional cameras are really nothing more than dummy cameras. It is quite rare for an
institution to have more than one person watching its closed-circuit televisions at any one time. In many
situations, no-one is assigned to watch the monitors, as employers may view it as a waste of manpower
and employees view it as a tremendously mind-numbing chore. Think of all the unmonitored camera
banks you've seen yourself. It's incredibly rare for someone to actually sit and do nothing else but watch
the monitors. Further, often one monitor flips between the input of a dozen cameras. This means one has a
one-in-12 chance of being seen, if anyone's watching.
This article originally appeared in Infiltration 3.