Surveillance Cameras in Your Neighborhood?

I have been following the recent debate among my neighbors the past several weeks regarding a proposal to install surveillance cameras at strategic intersections throughout the neighborhood.


Given the recent uptick in the increased, individual awareness of exactly how much privacy we (at least we here in the good ol’ US of A) do not have, any movement to further encroach on an individual citizen’s privacy is bound to polarize a populous be it a neighborhood, city, State or nation.


It has been interesting to sit somewhat on the sidelines reading the email exchange between my pro- and anti-camera neighbors.  Those opposing the installation of cameras speak to the extended invasion of personal privacy and “government” (read authority) intervention.  On the opposite side of the street (sometimes literally) there are voices touting safer streets, less pass-through traffic, a positive discouragement to unwanted or illegal behavior and an added sense of security.  The debate continues with no formal decision being reach yet, a decision once made I am confident, will be acceptable to only half the community residents.


As I thought further about the claim of a greater sense of security against the backdrop of further relinquishing one’s personal privacy, I began to wonder, exactly how comfortable, secure and confident are we regarding the level of privacy we have within our own homes.


I decided to take a stroll around my neighborhood as I pondered this question.


As a professional working in the IT audit and security field, I am acutely aware of the conflict which arises when attempting to find the proper balance between security, control and privacy.


While no security device or system will deliver 100 percent security or control (at least not one with a human interface component) and similarly, no privacy policy is 100 percent private, the potential, however, is to create the hesitation or raise the question in the mind of a potential criminal, as to the vulnerability of a neighborhood.  Security cameras are one element in a larger pro-active strategy that provides a potential deterrent and contributes to improving, increasing and sustaining community-wide security programs.


Those who may question your community’s commitment to security versus privacy, just take a stroll around your neighborhood and tally the number of homes that have security system “lawn signs” and window stickers, prominently displayed. 


What are these lawn signs and stickers communicating to the potential criminal, even if subliminally…”Is the home protected or not, am I willing to take the chance, the risk, or just move on to another home, another neighborhood?”  “Do I want to take the risk that the sign may be just a ruse and the home is not protected, or just go find an easier target?”  We value our security and publicly admit to this via the signage we display on our properties.


I was surprised to see the number of “security signs” that have popped up around my neighborhood, there has certainly been an increase over the years.


This got me to thinking, just how much privacy are we willing to give up for the sake of acquiring that peace of mind, sense of security?  Are my neighbors really aware of just how much privacy they are giving up in their quest for personal security?  Ever ask yourself what privacy am I giving up by installing that in-home security surveillance system?


Privacy advocates may try to point out that there is a difference between a private home security system and public security cameras.  There is, in their objectives, placement and usage, however, the same individuals may be very surprised to learn of the “personal” information available, tracked and eventually retained by those in-home security surveillance systems and their security providers.


A quick analysis of the type of information which may be gleaned from inside your secure, private residence via your home security system, brings to mind such information as:


  • Your daily living patterns, when you leave, when you come home, when move between rooms (motion detectors track your room-by-room movement)
  • When you go to sleep at night, wake up in the morning (when you turn on and when you turn off the alarm system, by setting off individual room motion detectors and fluctuations in room temperatures as you settle in for a good nights’ sleep).
  • Your late night raids on the refrigerator (again setting off various room motion detectors).
  • The temperature in your home (if you have the internal climate monitoring option installed).
  • Your financial information (credit history, payment plans, current or outstanding balances, bank account number or credit card number for ePayment options) and by default, your credit score, payment history and other potentially “linked” financial information.
  • Emergency and non-emergency (secondary) contact numbers of friends or other family members.
  • Your access passcode (which in many cases is short, simple and selected on the basis of its ease to remember and enter when the entry alarm sounds; probably a family member’s birthdate or numeric keypad pattern e.g., 1590, 1236, etc.).
  • Your pass phrase to validate a false alarm or forced entry.
  • Types and possible number of pets you may have, due to the sensitivity and type of motion detection devices installed (or not installed), and their location (either by height or specific home “zones”).
  • Secondary access codes for service personnel, additional family members, etc.
  • Still images and video captured via cameras installed around and throughout the house and stored on your provider’s server.
  • In more sophisticated monitoring systems, which provide both audio along with video surveillance, in rooms where such devices are installed, recorded conversations will be stored on the service provider’s server.


If you have the “app” to check your security system remotely…more of your private information available would include:

  • Your mobile phone number.
  • Your GPS location information.
  • Your call history log
  • The amount of energy you are conserving (or wasting) via appliances that are turned on or off remotely or via the system’s pre-programmed “options.”


This identifies just a few data that are collected, monitored and retained regarding your activities inside your private home.  Further raising the question, did you know?  Did you know that these type of data are being collected, available for assessment (potentially beyond your individual use), retained by your home security service provider? 


What does your provider do with these data?  How long are these data retained?  Secured?  Could any of these data be sold to third-party providers (e.g., pet service providers, landscapers, and baby sitting services, HVAC contractors (our monitoring of your furnace indicates that it is not functioning properly and should be serviced), your insurance company, etc.).


Heather Kelly, a CNN reporter states, "When you weigh cameras against other security measures, they emerge as the least costly and most effective choice. In the aftermath of 9/11, we've turned most public spaces into fortresses -- now, it's impossible for you to get into tall buildings, airports, many museums, concerts, and even public celebrations without being subjected to pat-downs and metal detectors. When combined with competent law enforcement, surveillance cameras are more effective, less intrusive, less psychologically draining, and much more pleasant than these alternatives."


While Ms. Kelly may be correct in her analysis, it begs the question…given the ever increasing and evolving sophistication of technology, exactly how comfortable are you in the erosion of your privacy as payment for your security?

Email me at and give me your take on the question, let me know your position...privacy or security, where do you stand?


“Those who give up liberty for the sake of security deserve neither liberty nor security.”

Ben Franklin


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