Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Video surveillance is becoming simply a fact of life, at the gas station, the grocery store, the bank. In fact, nearly everywhere you go someone is watching. More and more schools are using video cameras to watch our kids. Is this the Big Brother that George Orwell warned us of? Or is it simply schools using available technology to address dropping personnel budgets and rising school violence? The reality is, it may be a bit of both.

Following the 1949 publication of Orwell’s classic novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four," the term "Big Brother" entered the lexicon as a synonym for government abuse of civil liberties, generally related to the use of video surveillance. In the novel, everyone is under surveillance by authorities. Citizens are continually reminded of this with the phrase, "Big Brother is watching you.”

Signs in many places stating “Facility under 24-hour video surveillance” are the modern equivalent. Most of these facilities are privately owned, and the surveillance systems are deployed by the owner to protect the property. Schools, on the other hand, are very much a local governmental entity with the buildings held in trust for the patrons of the school district.

The American Civil Liberties Union, long concerned about governmental use of video surveillance, notes, “As long as there is no clear consensus about where we draw the line on surveillance to protect American values, public Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) is in danger of evolving into a surveillance monster.”

The expansion of surveillance cameras has troubled some. "We're seeing a whole new wave of video surveillance," Jay Stanley of the ACLU’s Liberty and Technology program told City Limits magazine. "The current wave is the efforts to tie together public and private surveillance, which creates the potential for a pervasive surveillance system to track people from block to block."

The Electronic Privacy Information Center questions the effectiveness of CCTV surveillance as a whole, noting the following: “While the average Londoner is estimated to have their picture recorded more than 300 times a day, no single bomber has been caught. Despite this evidence, in the United States, current anti-terrorist fears, combined with the surge in road rage, the perception of an increase in crime and several high-profile school shootings, are causing many to call for increased video surveillance not only on highways, in schools, public parks and government buildings, but in all public spaces...”