The tragic and deadly terrorist bombings in Boston have lawmakers in cities across the country calling for more spending on surveillance equipment. And rightfully so, seeing as it was surveillance footage that led to the capture of the culprits.
As Keith Proctor points out in his latest CNN Money article, the surveillance business, which has already been a booming industry over the last few years, will only continue to grow. Most often, though, the main concern with widespread surveillance is whether or not our privacy rights as citizens are being infringed upon. But events like the Boston Bombing force people to rethink their stance on the issue.
“The argument for greater surveillance is straightforward,” Proctor says. “Horrible events in places like Boston remind us that we’re vulnerable. The best way to limit events like last week’s bombings, the argument goes, is to accept 24-hour surveillance in public spaces. And when you see someone maimed by bomb shrapnel, privacy concerns sound coldly abstract.”
According to Proctor, since 9/11, federal spending on Homeland Security exceeds $790 billion: that’s larger than both TARP and the New Deal! But critics say due to lack of oversight, that money doesn’t always get used wisely. Proctor reports that, “an Indiana county used its $300,000 Electronic Emergency Message Boards — to be used solely to alert the community of, you know, emergencies — to advertise the volunteer fire department’s fish fry. Western Michigan counties used homeland security dollars to purchase 13 $900 Sno-Cone machines.”
In the private sector, however, surveillance camera sales have exploded. Last year in Florida, for example, surveillance footage was used in nearly 800 criminal investigations, leading to more than 100 arrests.
But compared to other parts of the world, the U.S. still has some catching up to do. “…New York City has more than 4,000 cameras in Manhattan alone, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Chicago’s linked public and private security cameras number around 10,000. But…in London — the Xanadu of winking, digital eyes — surveillance cameras total an estimated half-million.”
At the same time though, Homeland Security grants for states have actually dropped from $2 billion in 2003 to $294 million in 2012. And with the “sequester,” those funds are expected to continue to dwindle.
So how do we stay safe? The answer is quality over quantity: Improved technology.
Companies like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman are shifting the industry towards what is considered the future of surveillance, referred to as “video analytics,” where “computers will automatically analyze camera feeds to count people, register temperature changes, and, via statistical algorithms, identify suspicious behavior. No technicians required.” By 2020, the video analytic market is expected to be a $39 billion industry.
But until computers are smart enough to warn us before an incident is about to take place, we will continue to rely on surveillance experts to help us put the pieces together.
As the controversial discussion about increasing video and audio surveillance continues, be sure to check back with the NCAVF for the latest.