Security Cameras in the Neighborhood

I live in a pleasant, calm, middle class neighborhood. Not much crime here, at most the rare break-in or vandalism, not a place where you worry about going out for a walk in the evening. Recently the HOA sent out a letter discussing the install of security cameras to increase security and that provoked some interesting responses. Not everyone – including me – thinks that cameras everywhere are a good thing.

Will they reduce/deter crime? Maybe. Is it worth trading away some amount of privacy? Maybe. Maybe. I don’t have enough information to judge, just a sense that finding the balance between privacy and security isn’t easy. If the cameras would eliminate crime, that’s interesting. If they will, why didn’t we do it last year or ten years ago, is this purely about cost? It cost too much to stop crime then, not so much now? That’s not meant to be sarcastic. As costs decrease options become available that weren’t viable before and therefore maybe not even considered. I don’t have a good case for saying no to cameras – that’s either lack of thought or a bad position, I’m not sure which yet.

Still, I like to participate on issues that matter to me, so I sent the Board some questions, among them the following:

  • How long will the data be retained and how will it be purged?
  • Who will have real time access to the system (to view the camera feeds)?
  • Will administrators be allowed to view the data as a proxy – for example to see if they can find someones lost cat?
  • Will cameras be placed to only monitor public/community common areas and not any residence? (Policy)
  • With regard to public areas, what monitoring will be done at the playground?
  • How will the Board decide if the cameras are a success?
  • What logging will be done to track who views the live or recorded data?
  • How will you guarantee the security of the system so that it cannot be hacked (or such attempt detected and stopped) by a criminal using it to find targets and best times?
  • Will the Board require a subpoena for anyone to get a copy of the data, for example for a  wrongful injury claim?
  • What crimes and how many have occurred by year for the past three years?
  • Is there a time of year when crime spikes?
  • What research has been done to see how other associations address this issue and how effective it has been in similar neighborhoods?

You can see my IT/security centric view shapes the questions. Ultimately the Board will decide and I’ll respect that decision (and at worst try to vote someone else in next time around). They are doing the best they can and there is no one ‘right’ answer (and I said as much in my email to them).

Privacy rights aside (and I don’t say that lightly), this is an attempt to solve a problem. I like to see the problem defined, explore options, see what others have done, and then dig into the cost/benefit part. Maybe they did that, all I got was a ‘installing cameras’ email. I suspect that this was one of those times where a bit of group-think and a bit of insensitivity to the privacy issue generated some mild backlash.

Think about the privacy part though. We could probably do close to 100% coverage of the neighborhood, or we could just monitor the egress roads, or somewhere in between. Is it still about cost? Would you think it was fair (as opposed to legal) if someone across the street pointed a camera at your home 24×7? Where does privacy for the one outweigh the good of the many? Not easy questions, but for certain questions we will have to answer this decade.

I imagine the cameras will go and we’ll see what happens.