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Problems for Video Surveillance

Video surveillance serves a wide variety of uses in a world that needs security, information, and tracking of people, events and objects. There are many applications for this system that cannot be performed in any other way. And yet, it has been observed that this modern invention has a fair amount of problems and controversies. In recent times, the system has been computerized and tuned up quite a bit, and the quality of video has improved, the moral issues and reliability of video surveillance are still considered doubtful by many skeptics.

Crowds are a major problem faced by video surveillance systems. A large number of people, with each person behaving a certain way, can easily be recorded by a good quality camera, but analyzing their actions in real time requires a computer system of high computing power. The human eye cannot detect these patterns in a crowd, because of the overwhelming number of people who have to be scanned every second. In addition, to make faces in a crowd recognizable, the quality of video has to be very high, and the camera has to perform extremely quick zooming and panning operations for a large number of ‘suspects’ in any situation. This means an increase in storage capacity needed to store the video for later analysis, and an increase in the cost of the camera as well. All of these contribute to making video surveillance of a crowd, a nightmare for any system.

Video surveillance systems are also being increasingly used in public places, which raises concerns over privacy issues. Since most of these systems can only be effective when people are not aware of the presence of the camera, the privacy of every individual being observed is at stake. Zooming cameras can listen in on, and record, private conversations. While this is essential from a security point of view, it invades the privacy of the people engaged in conversation. Critics feel that the system endangers the civil liberties of citizens, especially nations like the UK, where public video surveillance has become a common thing, with nearly 1.5 million cameras all over the country, monitoring the population. The questions of privacy raised by such cameras, are that people cannot walk around a city or meet or protest or demonstrate without having their identities collected and used for devious purposes – like the ‘Big Brother’ system in the George Orwell novel ‘1984’, where a two-way television screen is used by the government as surveillance of the entire population.

The cameras used for video surveillance are physical objects, and this is another problem faced by the system. Many vandals deliberately destroy these cameras, or make them ineffective, in order to carry out illegal activities. Some cameras are encased in bullet-proof housings to prevent this. However, there are other methods that vandals use to target the innocuous cameras. Spray paint can be used to blur the lens of a camera. Laser pointers are also used to block cameras, or with sufficient power, to damage them. In some cases, the cameras are left intact, while the wireless network used to coordinate and monitor the video surveillance system are blocked using signals of the same wavelength.