Surveillance Photography

A link to a photography project I am continuing outside of Gainesville, throughout my travels around the world:

Someone must watch the watchmen.

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The cover of the Fine Print

Our story is the cover story for the latest edition of the Fine Print, check it out! You can pick up an issue on University of Florida campus or around Gainesville.

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Who lies behind the eye?

We are University of Florida journalism students. We have been noticing cameras nearly everywhere we go. Why are we being watched? Or are we just made to believe we are? Who is watching us? Who has access to those videos?

With satellites and camera pens, is there anywhere left with unrecorded privacy but the woods?

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Calibrating the drones

This link leads to an article explaining the giant test charts across the U.S., used in the 50s and 60s to test the vision of cameras from above. Satellites, airplanes or drones can calibrate their cameras to them, and you can even find them with Google Maps.

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What We’re Doing Here

by Charlene Hewitt and Rachel Jones

The primary goal here is to uncover all instances of surveillance in Gainesville, focusing mostly on governmental entities’ use of surveillance, and how the information is being used, stored and shared, by whom, and at what cost (both monetary and otherwise). The intention  is to approach this task from different points of view to determine the trade-offs (i.e. privacy for security, or capital for efficiency) of local surveillance, to analyze the economic impacts of surveillance technology, to uncover potential or actual abuses and shortcomings along with the possible benefits.

At the most basic level, this project is important for this group, as journalism students, to assume a surveillance function of its own—to watch the watchers. As citizens (and, indeed, as humans), it is important to be aware of any threats to privacy and other basic human rights. This endeavor is also important because it is an issue that has not been significantly covered at the local level.

The main goal of the group is to get as close to the truth as is possible with the tools available, not to seek confirmation for any preconceived notions that any members may have, though group members do strongly suspect that private information is being collected in a manner that should be of concern to the general (and perhaps unsuspecting) public. During the course of research, some questions may remain unanswered due in part to the nature of the subject matter and time constraints, but the questions themselves will likely carry some level of social import.

The definition of surveillance connotes a more intimate form of scrutiny than just a passing glance. This group will study any instances of record collection and close observation that could lead to a more intimate or detailed portrait of a person or group. For example, counting how many cars travel along a particular road would not be considered surveillance, since there is no attention paid to the cars themselves, but recording the information so that license plates are legible would be considered surveillance. Therefore, devices which are not being used for surveillance purposes but have the capabilities to be used as such will also be analyzed.

Throughout the course of our data collection, the many questions being posed included: Which forms (devices and methods) of surveillance are being used? Who uses such devices and methods? Who has access to the findings? Who has access to the equipment? Where is it stored? What are the potential uses of existing equipment (i.e. traffic cameras that are not currently being recorded but can easily be converted to do so)? Who has access to such networks and what security measures are in place?

With the information obtained, the group plans to compile the research and findings into a website to be updated even after the close of this course. We will include a map showing the locations of the cameras we know about in Gainesville, and provide information on the types of cameras and who watches the streaming of their video. Certain members of the group plan to continually update the site as more cameras and instances of surveillance are uncovered. We will continue to include our own research on what we have found in Gainesville and also provide links to related articles and documents that we have found in our research on surveillance both locally, nationally and, if applicable, internationally. We aim to make the site easy to navigate and understand so the general public can find it a useful tool to learn about surveillance in Gainesville, as well as what we find about the progression of surveillance on national and global levels. Beyond the hard data and research, we have created a Twitter account for comments and discussion about whether the surveillance is worth the trade-offs. In addition to the interactive aspect, this social media presence will include links to current events in the news and how surveillance has been used in both helpful and, perhaps, scary ways.

One example of how local surveillance has been helpful was in the Christian Aguilar case. The dental records hadn’t confirmed it yet, but a surveillance video obtained by the Gainesville Police Department provided details of the clothes he was wearing the day he went missing, which helped the police determine the body’s likely identity.

This leads nicely into the reasons (or maybe excuses) for surveillance. Of course, there are instances and locations where surveillance is needed. The shock of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 created fertile ground for advancements in surveillance, often at the expense of civil liberties. Only a shock like 9/11 could provide such an environment for the government to listen in on the phone conversations of its own citizens – all in the name of anti-terrorism. But surveillance has moved even beyond phone-tapping, beyond airport security, and into national networks which document every license plate seen by certain cameras — the time and the place, picking up on patterns of movement on individuals throughout the country who operate vehicles. (Again, is it worth it?)

Aside from license-plate tracking by repo-men, there are also cameras on school campuses, in shopping malls, at intersections, on buses, and many other places both public and private. With skillful hackers being able to crack codes, it almost isn’t relevant who has privileged access to see a video since it is possible to find out information without knowing the password. Skillful code-breakers could be inside or outside the government. No one knows their intentions. The data is there, and it can be retrieved and used.

Even beyond the streaming and recordings of the physical cameras and wherever they wire back to (if they even do), the presence of the cameras themselves has an impact. People behave differently when they feel they are being watched. They speak differently and act differently, curbing their actions to that which would be deemed acceptable by that all-seeing eye, that big brother beyond the telescreen. Since many of the cameras, we have been told, do not record, the effect of the presence of the cameras themselves is an important variable to consider. The presence has a psychological effect on those who become aware of the cameras and this then transforms their interactions with others, who are then affected by that interaction, and it just goes on and on, the effects of surveillance seeping into the course of our daily lives, so much that it becomes a ‘normal’, even expected, thing. We will include information about this on our website.

The rapid increase of surveillance is not a conspiracy theory. It is a real thing — there are real cameras, integrated networks and continued interest in surveillance on the part of the government. We, the members of the group who continue to work on this project, will continue to research who is watching the cameras, if and how the data is being stored, and how the information is being used. And we will share what we find via the website and Twitter.

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Drone research at UF

Yep, UF has been authorized for drone research. It’s for the wildlife, though.

From the article:

“The drones capture images of about one pixel per inch, a higher resolution compared to the one-pixel-per-foot images found on Google Earth, said Peter Ifju, a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor at UF.”

But it also says:

“The drones are being used for research, not for surveillance or as weaponry.”

I guess they don’t consider taking photos of wildlife as surveillance, but this is just the beginning. UF’s research is constantly expanding.

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NAS Jacksonville’s new drone center

With Jacksonville less than two hours out of Gainesville’s periphery, this new drone center is pretty close to home.

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Facebook Graph Search: A Step into Your Privacy

Watch out! Photos hidden from your timeline may soon be seen by others, check out the full details here on the Wall Street Journal’s article about it:

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iPhone photo reveals fugitive’s location

Check out the article — there’s built in gps tracking in iPhone photos (and probably a lot more photos as well) that records and stores your location…just think of how many photos you or your friends have uploaded to the internet — and all the people who now have access to find your various locations.


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Surveillance or Not Surveillance?

by Charlene Hewitt

You’re driving along at 45 mph when the traffic light 50 yards ahead turns yellow. Having stopped at every red light on the way home, you figure you can make this one if you gun it. So you push the gas pedal to the floor, and just as you pass under the light, you realize it turned red. You check your mirrors to make sure there are no cops flashing their lights when you notice there was a camera next to that traffic light. And now begins the waiting period. Weeks later, no ticket has arrived. Are you the luckiest person in Gainesville? No, not really.

The cameras on each light in the city of Gainesville are not currently used for traffic infractions; they are actually used as an integral component of the city’s traffic management system, which seeks to reduce congestion and improve the efficiency of first responders.

In an interview with Matthew Weisman, Intelligent Transportation Services (ITS) Engineer, he explained that before the engineers were able to use the cameras to determine which responders to dispatch, someone would have to actually drive to the scene and then decipher the need. With the cameras, ITS Engineers can utilize the pan, tilt and zoom features of the cameras to assess the need and then dispatch the appropriate crews to assist with the resolution and cleanup.

The traffic management system also seeks to minimize traffic congestion. When an incident occurs, an ITS Engineer can manipulate the traffic signals around town to change the flow of traffic. As a trade-off, according to Mr. Weisman, this can cause congestion in other places around town; manipulating the traffic signals is a delicate balancing act.

According to Peter Vega, ITS Engineer in Jacksonville, Fla., traffic cameras are not considered surveillance cameras because they do not record. However, Webster’s Dictionary defines surveillance simply as “close watch over someone or something.”

“If you can get information from it, if there’s a chance someone could be watching it… I would consider that surveillance,” said Parth Naik, a 21-year-old junior at the University of Florida.

Because the cameras do not record, and thus create no public record to examine, determining whether or not these cameras are being used for surveillance purposes and not merely for traffic management is more difficult. Even worse, with no external access or oversight, there is no check on those who watch the cameras to prevent possible instances of abuse — voyeurism, for instance.

While Mr. Vega and Mr. Weisman are adamant that these cameras are not used for surveillance purposes, the 2005 ITS Strategic Plan has an entire section dedicated to Homeland Security, which states explicitly, “The FDOT (…) collects a significant volume of real-time information, such as video, vehicle sensor data, traffic counts, and probe information. Generally speaking, this information is not archived. In part, this is to avoid the workload and potential legal implications of third parties seeking access to this information. However, the potential value of such information to law enforcement and security agencies in detecting suspicious behavior is enormous.”

Additionally, the draft version of the 2013 ITS Strategic Plan, the FDOT lists expanding capabilities to accommodate Homeland Security and counter terrorism as one of its primary goals.

Although Mr. Weisman and Mr. Vega deny recording (citing cost, procedure and liability), the Bosch 500i series PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom) cameras that are currently in use do have the ability to record. If, despite the language in the 2005 ITS Strategic Plan, the cameras are not currently being used to record, the infrastructure to do so is solidly in place. And Bosch’s manual for these specific cameras touts, “it’s a dome platform built around a
system of intelligent, interchangeable modules that allow you to update camera functionality quickly and cost effectively. Using common components lets you install a basic camera system today and migrate to a more advanced version tomorrow – without having to replace the entire dome, thus protecting your initial investment.”

Mr. Naik, whose father has been a victim of armed robbery at his place of employment, says that he understands the benefit of surveillance in public places. “But, at the same time,” says Naik, “I don’t know all the implications.”

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