On Special Assignment: Society's turbulent relationship with sur - KTVQ.com | Q2 | Continuous News Coverage | Billings, MT

On Special Assignment: Society's turbulent relationship with surveillance cameras

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In today's world, you are being recorded more than ever.

You're being watched every day and at most places.

Some days you know, other moments are unbeknownst. Surveillance cameras and what they capture can be viewed by the eyes of millions.

It unveils the absurd, the frightening, the mundane, the wrong-place at the wrong-time.

There are an estimated 245 million cameras worldwide, and the average American is on camera 75 times a day. That means even when you move out of one frame, you're likely stepping into another.

Dan Grosulak, 3G's gas station and convenience store owner, has big plans for his business.

As he looks to expand, a cornerstone to success is in the safety of employees and customers with brand new cameras.

"I know it's in the tens of thousands of dollars," Grosulak said.

Each new store and renovation will include as many as 40 high definition cameras.

"I mean, you could read the dollars on the counter, you could almost read the serial number if you really had to," he said.

He wants his customers to know they're on camera. A large HD TV can't be missed when you walk in. The system serves as a deterrent.

"It's one of the hard things to justify on a piece of paper, because it's hard to measure what doesn't happen. But like I always tell people, all we know is it doesn't happen here," Grosulak said.

The expansion of surveillance cameras began around 1990 and has multiplied ever since. The growth came with the stigma from author George Orwell's "1984" novel released four decades earlier.

"As we allow more surveillance, as we become more comfortable having cameras around or knowing that people are watching us, I think it becomes easier to slip into this very strong surveillance society or tyrannical society Orwell is talking about," said Dr. Jennifer Scroggins, an MSU-Billings Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice

Scroggins said the access to cameras, including the ones on our smart phones, has desensitized us to being in view.

"It's almost as if we're becoming kind of numb to these things that we maybe don't notice these types of things because they're so expected," she said. "And this idea that surveillance will change behavior is based on the theory of deterrence, that if we threaten people with some kind of punishment or some kind of negative sanction it will control their behavior and act in a way we want."

Surveillance doesn't necessarily instill inhibition of criminal behavior.

A 2009 study from the ACLU concluded that analysis strongly indicated that video surveillance has "little to no positive impact on crime." 

But the desire of safety by surveillance has shifted and expanded the security system industry. It's not just for businesses.

Technology now allows for eyes on your home through a smart phone.

"We call it a Skybell or a doorbell cam," said Jeff Guenthner, general manager of Kenco Securities in Billings. "By pressing the button, there's a camera right above that button that will alert you or send an image to your smart phone. It also has a motion sensor built into it so if someone just walks up to the door but doesn't push the button, it still can send you a snapshot or live video of what's going on, you'll know someone is outside your door."

Skybell isn't the only available doorbell cam offering live video.

As seen in the report, Ring Video Doorbell provides a wide angled HD video, smart motion detection, and cloud recording.

In just five years, the cost for even a minimal camera for your door has gone down considerably.

A HD camera that captures people at your door is  as low as $200.

Ring's product can also be on its website and purchased for $199.

"We used to sell cameras, single cameras for $2,000 to $3,000 dollars just a few years ago," Guenther said.

For police, the widespread use of security cameras doesn't necessarily mean catching the bad guy immediately. They are instead most used as evidence to strengthen arguments in the courtroom.

The camera never lies.

"It's images, you're playing a video so it can be pretty profound for a detective working that case," Billings police Lt. Casey Hafner said. "They're seeing things, they're looking for specific things. Even if that person isn't identifiable, they're still looking at the people there. Maybe there was somebody that left that they can identify later that may have information. All that stuff helps in furthering their case."

Laws on surveillance cameras are tricky.

"There's no specific rights to privacy in the constitution, they're called elaborated rights," said Dr. Susan Balter-Reitz, MSU-Billings Law of Public Communication professor. "So they've been developed over time through law. And there is a sharp distinction made by the courts in terms of what's public property and what's private."
Step online and the lines become even more blurred.

Live stream to cameras can connect you to thousands of places across the world.

Millions share their personal lives online, specifically Facebook and Twitter. And they want you to share more.

"Folks don't click through what the privacy rules are or ownership rules, intellectual property rules," Balter-Reitz said. "So if you're on Facebook or Flickr or any of these social media sites, you give up your privacy and you do it by contract. And folks don't make that distinction."

The video surveillance industry is expected to climb over $40 billion in 2016.

Surveillance provided pivotal information in high profile cases including the Boston Bombings and Brussels attacks.

Still, people don't like a camera shoved in their face.

In a world filled with them, they aren't easy to avoid.

But for business owners like Grosulak, he says surveillance cameras are "definitely worth the investment."

As far as those camera looking gadgets atop intersection lights, they aren't looking for you to run a red light.

Montana banned red light cameras in 2009 and joined 16 other states in prohibiting photo enforcement.

Note: This story has been updated for clarification on the products available for purchase. The Skybell offered by Kenco is different from the Ring Video Doorbell offered by the company of the same name. A link to Ring's website can be found here.

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