Video surveillance after Boston: Carte blanche for Big Brother?

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05/01/2013

There has been a lot of debate in the past few months about the government infringing on the privacy and rights of its citizens. Most of the heat has been generated by the standoff over gun control, but you don’t have to look far to find people who think Big Brother is lurking around every corner—at the IRS, DHS and even your local cop shop.

So what about video surveillance? Did the fact that video helped take down the Boston bombers give the powers-that-be carte blanche to watch your every move, whenever and wherever you go? Will there soon be blanket surveillance every time you step out your door? And if that’s the case, where is the outrage and pushback?

Apparently there won’t be any. In a poll taken after the Boston bombing, The New York Times and CBS News found that 78 percent of Americans favor installing video surveillance cameras in public places, judging that any infringement on their privacy is worth it to help prevent terrorist attacks.

That sentiment bodes well for the security industry, which stands to profit from the increased public and private spending. Even before the bombing, IMS Research was projecting a 114 percent increase in the global market for video surveillance equipment, from $9.6 billion in 2010 to $20.5 billion in 2016. IMS is in the process of revising that forecast, no doubt making it even rosier.

Which brings us to drones (or maybe not, but that’s where I’m going). Last week, Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis said he would be interested in using aerial surveillance technology to monitor events like the Boston Marathon. He wasn’t talking about helicopters—the price of drones has gotten to the point where local police departments are using them, particularly in rural areas.

The security industry might be able to benefit from that development too. The question is, when will the privacy line be crossed in the minds of the public? You might feel safer knowing that your bank or train station is under surveillance, but how will you feel when a police drone flies over your house? Or am I being paranoid?

It will be interesting to see what happens on that front. For now, though, protection has trumped the freedom to remain anonymous, at least when it comes to surveillance on the ground. The Tsarnaev brothers can attest to that.