New Surveillance Cameras Focus Privacy Concerns

January 27, 1999 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

ACLU News Wire: 1-27-99 — New Surveillance Cameras Focus Privacy Concerns

line.gif” ALIGN=”BOTTOM”>

New federally funded software promises to double the quality of fuzzy video surveillance camera footage, gratifying crime fighters but raising concerns among privacy watchdogs, reports.

Developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, the Imaging Tool for Aiding Law Enforcement, or VITALE, samples multiple frames of surveillance footage, compiles information on the subject from different views, and then fuses the data together to sharpen the image.

Researcher Ken Tobin and his team developed algorithms to cut back on the visual “noise” of video, clearing up the fuzzy, snowy stick-up footage familiar to consumers of “reality” police television programming.

The new software is not in commercial release yet, but law enforcement officials hope to be using a beta version by the end of the summer. Beyond law enforcement, the technology has medical-imaging satellite-technology applications as well, officials say.

But Barry Steinhardt, Associate Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, suggested that the technology is not likely to stop there.

“What happens if other government agencies get hold of these videotapes and use the images and information recorded not of criminals, but innocent private citizens?” Steinhardt asked.

“It’s part of a rush of technology that is making surveillance more and more commonplace and affordable,” Steinhardt said. “We are going to have to resign ourselves to either all be living in glass houses, or we need to introduce some regulatory legislation.”

The ACLU has definite ideas about such legislation, according to Norman Siegel, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. The group wants laws to limit the amount of tape recorded, distributed, and stored, and also wants individuals notified when they are being taped.

To demonstrate the near-ubiquity of public surveillance cameras, the NYCLU mapped the locations of 2,397 surveillance cameras visible on the streets of Manhattan (

“We need to take an active, not passive, role in deciding how surveillance technology can be used in public,” Siegel said.

“Technology is driving us. We need to get hold of technology.”


Sign up to be the first to hear about how to take action.