When a thief boldly walked into a downtown San Francisco art gallery last week and stole a Picasso drawing worth almost a quarter million dollars, it’s hard to say which was more surprising: that the high-end gallery had no camera surveillance to capture the crime or that the thief was quickly identified based on a camera image outside a nearby store that showed him walking down the street with the stolen merchandise in his hot little hands.
Surveillance camera technology has made huge strides in the past few years, to the point where a good surveillance network is not only affordable, but increasing essential for businesses of any size. But the result of this rapid advance in camera technology has also resulted in an explosion of the tiny devices, to the point where we are now all on camera at some point every day and nearly everywhere we go.
From gas stations to mini-marts, from subway platforms to hotel elevators, you cannot make your way through a normal day without someone, somewhere watching you on closed circuit TV. Perhaps the most extreme example of this can be found in Las Vegas. Think for a minute about flying into “Sin City.” Once you step off the plane you are walking through a slot-machine filled terminal heavily reinforced with cameras for both gambling and airport security. Most taxicabs now have tiny cams installed in their dashboards to prevent crime. And any decent sized hotel in Las Vegas has enough security cameras monitoring every square inch of the public spaces in their facility, they would make Fort Knox look like a shack in the wilderness. It’s only until you close the door on your hotel room that you are no longer being monitored (you hope).
The spread of cameras across the urban landscape has even led to new websites like iSee which tracks the “path of least surveillance” across New York City.
In the case of the San Francisco theft, it was a camera mounted in the doorway of a restaurant near the art gallery that captured the image of the thief walking down the street. That camera was supplied by Speco Technologies who makes a wide range of cameras for businesses. Their systems also include a feature where cameras pick up motion in their field of view that triggers a strobe light and activates a recorded voice that warns an intruder they are being watched and recorded. That should be plenty to make a thief look elsewhere.
A number of mainstream Silicon Valley companies are also cashing in on the surveillance camera boom. Just last Tuesday, Cisco announced they would be the primary supplier for a huge new project in China. The company will be installing over 500,000 cameras in street corners, neighborhoods and parks throughout the city of Chongqing. The government is presenting the ambitious project as a deterrent to local crime. Others are expressing concern that the real intent is to stifle political dissent.
The owners of the art gallery in San Francisco has already told the press they would soon be installing surveillance cameras in their shop to prevent thieves from boldly stealing artwork again. This is probably a good idea, given the events of the past week, as yet another business has joined the multitude who will be watching as you make your way across the all-seeing city.