It's a typical Saturday morning, and you have a little time to yourself. You stroll down the sidewalk to your favorite coffee shop and spend a few quality minutes with your favorite latte. Then it's off to the park, where you share a few bread crumbs with a flock of friendly ducks. It sure is nice to enjoy the solitude. But are you really alone?
In the U.S., an estimated 30 million surveillance cameras are in force, recording a stunning 4 billion hours of footage every week [source: Wadwha]. And although the U.S. Supreme Court has made it relatively easy to understand when police surveillance or search oversteps the bounds of the Fourth Amendment (a safeguard against search and seizure without cause) and violates a citizen's "reasonable expectation of privacy," there's no federal law governing public video surveillance.
In fact, the next time you are strolling on a sidewalk, entering a business or feeding the ducks in a city park, your every action is probably being recorded. Let's look at 10 places Big Brother is eyeing you [source: Smedley].
Ever feel like you're being watched at the park? It's not just the birds and squirrels keeping an eye on your whereabouts. Many city parks now include a series of surveillance cameras designed to surreptitiously monitor park-goers.
From a sleepy city park in Elk Grove, Calif., to Central Park's bustling scene in New York City, cameras — at $10,000 or more a pop — are silently recording our movements. Although the digital feeds aren't typically monitored, they are searchable. For instance, software can zero in on just the blue cars going south or one person in multiple places. This makes them an increasingly important factor in crime investigations [source: Henn].
Cameras installed in a Flushing, Mich., park help track down the people responsible for vandalism. In 2011 a group of perpetrators confessed to vandalizing picnic tables once they learned their actions had been filmed. On the flip side, cameras in one Seattle park were removed after community complaints of intrusion [source: Rich].
It was an ordinary Saturday shift for a Kansas City, Mo., city bus driver. Until two men without enough money for the fare boarded, then tackled and stabbed the driver as other passengers looked on. Thankfully, the bus driver was eventually hospitalized and recovered. And, because the entire event was caught on camera, video of the assailants was released to the public as police sought to identify them. Less than a week later, the men were identified and charged with the crime [sources: NBC News, Aegerter].
Kansas City isn't alone in installing camera equipment on its public transportation vehicles. In Washington, D.C., city bus cameras relay video and even audio feeds of passengers. So do the buses and trains in San Francisco, and in many other locales throughout the nation.
Although transit surveillance has, in some cities, been in force since the 1970s, it has become commonplace as recording devices have become smaller, and complaints and accidents have become more frequent [source: Berman].
Gas station owner Ahmed Radwan was fed up. Six of the bill collecting machines at his car washes been broken into and it seemed to be all by the same person. After a six-month string of robberies, he decided to catch the thief.
Radwan installed a surveillance camera – one of 70 at his Colton, Calif., station – right at the bill collecting machine. The next time it was robbed, the man looked right into the camera, which also recorded a distinctive tattoo on his arm [source: Juarez].
Odds are, if you go to car wash, you're being watched, too. According to a 2012 State of the Industry Survey by an industry magazine, 70 percent of respondents had installed surveillance cameras at their car wash locations. This should not be surprising, since 61 percent reported a crime had occurred at their business [source: Gorgos].
When 27-year-old Jon Gales left his condo in downtown Tampa, Fla., in June 2012, he expected to take a stroll. Instead, he noticed a surveillance camera being installed on the exterior of his building, aimed at the very sidewalk on which he stood. The camera, installed in advance of the Republican National Convention, sparked an idea. Gales began tracking cameras in Tampa's public areas and created a map detailing their locations.
While the idea of public surveillance cameras was new and potentially disturbing to Gales, in other cities, public surveillance has become commonplace. San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C., are rife with closed-circuit cameras along sidewalks. In Great Britain, there is one surveillance camera for every 14 people, aimed at public places, capturing each person in the country an estimated 300 times a day. The country is thought to have 20 percent of the world's surveillance cameras trained on its citizens, which by the way hasn't seemed to reduce crime [sources: Hill, Bowcott].
Some U.S. street cops are using iPhones with special equipment that can scan irises, measure facial features and scan electronic fingerprints. This information is then run through databases of photos and information to find matches. Facebook's facial recognition software that automatically tags photos could be mined for matches, too [source: Ganeva].
In the Country
You're hiking with your dog across a pasture in a decidedly rural part of Oklahoma. Think you couldn't possibly be within sight of a camera? Think again. Your otherwise uneventful walk could be filmed from the skies. And no, this isn't a military exercise gone awry.
A 2013 congressional report by the Federal Aviation Administration predicts up to 30,000 unmanned drones, which are unmanned aerial vehicles, will fly above the U.S. within two decades -- or sooner. Agencies ranging from public schools to police departments have received federal approval for drone use [source: Irby].
The FBI has been using surveillance drones during investigations for some time, but the 2013 push to introduce aerial drones for commercial use -- everything from monitoring traffic to dusting crops with chemicals -- is uncharted territory [source: Shubber].
In the back of your mind, you probably suspect e-mails sent from your work computer are monitored. But unlike the distant, impersonal "Big Brother" you might imagine, your every word could be read by any one of a dozen IT employees housed right next door. Most companies, particularly their IT departments, now employ software to flag suspicious patterns and keywords. (Be careful how you use the word "secret"!) But the truth is any e-mail you send could be read for any reason.
Not only that, but a flagged e-mail could lead to a full-on forensic data investigation. This means that every Web site you've visited, and every document, program and setting on your hard drive (even if you think you've deleted it) could be under investigation. The same goes for calls, texts and e-mails from your employee-provided smartphone. One employer even used the GPS it had installed on an employee's work phone to gather data that he was leaving early (while still on the clock), and used the information as ammunition to fire him [source: Derene].
Traffic Lights and Parking Lots
Perhaps you thought the traffic light would stay yellow a few seconds longer, but it suddenly blazed red. You felt lucky to get through the intersection unscathed -- until you received a traffic ticket in the mail. A hidden camera installed on the traffic light captured your infraction and your license plate.
Or you're in a rush, pulling up to a storefront and parking your car -- just for a minute -- in front of a fire hydrant. "No harm done," you think as you rush out with your package and pull away. That is, until you receive a mailed citation for the infraction. A device the size of a hockey puck was installed in front of the fire hydrant to alert officials of violations.
Thanks to an increasing number of surveillance cameras and detection devices recording driving habits (and violations), even when we think we're alone, we're not. But in some cases, these cameras have backfired. Chicago installed red-light cameras -- and then removed some of them at low-crash intersections. Los Angeles didn't have much luck getting citizens to voluntarily pay citations issued as the result of red-light cameras, so it removed them in 2011 [sources: Shannon, Byrne, Garrett].
Businesses and Retailers
You enter the doors of retailers shopping for items ranging from aspirin to blue jeans. It's an everyday situation, and like an increasing number of public encounters, it's also being recorded.
Retailers in every sector have installed video surveillance systems. And some, including including Babies 'R' Us, CVS, Macy's and Pathmark grocery stores, have taken it a step farther. The cameras at these stores are "smart." They don't record just hours and hours of useless footage that will only be reviewed if an issue arises; these cameras spot and flag unusual behavior. Whether a customer is removing many items from a shelf or trying to open a locked display case, there's a camera aimed at the behavior [source: Wadwha].
Your Own Backyard
You're swimming laps in your backyard pool, taking out the garbage or mowing the lawn. Perhaps you're simply enjoying a drink on the patio. Whatever you're doing outside, if your neighbor's security camera is aimed your way, you're being watched.
This is a perfectly legal invasion of privacy. In most places, it is lawful to aim your security cameras at your neighbor's property as long as you are only filming what is in public view. For some neighbors, undercover sleuthing has resulted in settling disputes.
When Florida resident Steve Miller discovered someone was tossing dog excrement into his yard, he set up a security camera -- and caught his neighbor in the act. The neighbor received a citation and the poo-slinging stopped [source: Murphy].
All Over Japan
It's no secret that technology is, well, kind of a big deal in Japan. And facial recognition software is no exception.
Whether you're a tourist or a citizen, cameras are tracking your comings and goings. Literally. Truck stops use facial recognition software to judge whether drivers are too sleepy to hit the road. And if you get close enough to a tech-equipped Japanese billboard, it can determine your sex, tell your age within a decade's range — and then change its advertising accordingly.
As a bonus, some Japanese vending machines have become so "smart," they offer sodas based on age, gender and even the weather. Restaurants and hotels use facial recognition to identify VIP guests, while service companies track whether their employees are smiling while on the job [source: Ganeva].
HowStuffWorks looks at the suicide rate in American jails versus prisons and the general population and offers ways to lessen it.
Author's Note: 10 Places You're Probably Being Watched Every Day
There's no doubt (in my mind, at least) that traffic cameras are efficient. I was driving at night on a highway near Oklahoma City a few years ago and before I knew it, was on a toll road. Seriously, it came out of nowhere. If there was a sign, I missed it. Although I felt a bit guilty about not dropping 73 cents into the collection bin -- wherever it was -- I encountered an entirely different emotion when I got the mail a few weeks later. There was a $30-something citation.
- Aegerter, Macradee. "Woman Witnesses Bus Assault, Stabbing." Fox 4. July 24, 2013. (Oct. 4, 2013) http://fox4kc.com/2013/07/24/woman-witnesses-bus-assault-stabbing/
- Berman, Mark. "On Buses, Cameras Are Watching and Listening." The Washington Post. Dec. 2, 2012. (Oct. 4, 2013) http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-12-02/local/35584713_1_surveillance-cameras-drivecam-buses
- Bowcott, Owen. "CCTV Boom Has Failed to Slash Crime, Say Police." The Guardian. May 5, 2008. (Oct. 8, 2013) http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2008/may/06/ukcrime1
- Byrne, John. "Red Light Cameras Exiting 18 Chicago Intersections." Chicago Tribune. Oct. 2, 2013. (Oct. 8, 2013) http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-10-02/news/chi-emanuel-pulls-handful-of-redlight-cameras-as-speed-tickets-start-20131001_1_speed-cameras-red-light-cameras-intersections
- Ganeva, Tana. "5 Unexpected Places You Can Be Tracked With Facial Recognition Technology." Signs of the Times. Aug. 30, 211. (Oct. 4, 2013) http://www.sott.net/article/234360-5-Unexpected-Places-You-Can-Be-Tracked-With-Facial-Recognition-Technology
- Garrett, Jerry. "L.A. City Council Votes to Remove Red-Light Cameras." The New York Times. July 28, 2011. (Oct. 8, 2013) http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/28/l-a-city-council-votes-to-remove-red-light-cameras/?_r=1
- Gorgos, Debra. "The 2012 State of the Industry Survey." Car Wash. Sept. 27, 2012. (Oct. 4, 2013) http://www.carwash.com/articles/86110-the-2012-state-of-the-industry-survey
- Henn, Steve. "In More Cities, a Camera on Every Corner, Park and Sidewalk." NPR. June 20, 2013. (Oct. 4, 2013) http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2013/06/20/191603369/The-Business-Of-Surveillance-Cameras
- Hill, Kashmir. "RNC and DNC Prove Once Again That Big Events Come With Big (Lasting) Surveillance." Forbes. Aug. 29, 2012. (Oct. 4, 2013) http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/08/29/rnc-and-dnc-prove-once-again-that-big-events-come-with-big-lasting-surveillance/
- Juarez, Leticia. "Camera Captures Unsuspecting Car Wash Bill Collector Thief in Colton." ABC 7. Nov. 9, 2012. (Oct. 4, 2013) http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/local/los_angeles&id=8880754
- Kelly, Tom. "Revealed: Big Brother Britain has More CCTV Cameras Than China." Daily Mail. Aug. 11, 2009. (Oct. 4, 2013) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1205607/Shock-figures-reveal-Britain-CCTV-camera-14-people--China.html
- Murphy, Kate. "Neighborhood Mischief Caught on Tape." The New York Times. Nov. 3, 2010. (Oct. 4, 2013) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/04/garden/04surveillance.html?pagewanted=all
- NBC News. "Caught on Camera: Bus Driver Attacked, Stabbed." July 23, 2013. (Oct. 4, 2013) http://www.wfla.com/story/22910031/bus-driver-attacked-stabbed
- Rich, Sarah. "Surveillance Cameras in Parks Assist Police, Concern Others." Government Technology. April 20, 2011. (Oct 4, 2013) http://www.govtech.com/public-safety/Cameras-Parks-Assist-Police.html
- Shannon, Meg. "Eyes on the Street: How Traffic Surveillance Invades Your Privacy." Tech News Daily. Jan. 9, 2012. (Oct. 4, 2013) http://www.technewsdaily.com/7443-traffic-surveillance-privacy.html
- Shubber, Kadhim. "First Domestic Surveillance Drones Approved for Commercial Use in the U.S." Wired. July 13, 2013. (Oct. 4, 2013) http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-07/30/faa-approves-domestic-drones
- Smedley, Chip. "What Law Says and ... Doesn't Say About Video Surveillance." Lancaster Online. Aug. 16, 2009. (Oct. 4, 2013) http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/241025_What-law-says-and---doesn-t-say-about-video-surveillance.html?page=all
- Whadwa, Tarun. "The Next Privacy Battle: Cameras That Judge Your Every Move." Forbes. Aug. 30, 2012. (Oct. 4, 2013) http://www.forbes.com/sites/singularity/2012/08/30/dear-republicans-beware-big-brother-is-watching-you/