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Surveillance cameras advance in use, features, competition

South Jersey Courier Post | July 26 2005

Ryan Giles, general manager of a 24-hour bowling alley, just got 20 extra pairs of eyes.

With video surveillance cameras pointed at the lanes, over cash registers, vending machines and fire alarms, at the bar and in the parking lot, his business is hitting more strikes than spares.

So far, the approximate $20,000 investment has thwarted several lawsuits from customers who falsely claimed to have been injured on the property, caught two employees stealing and headed off a couple of heated parking lot exchanges before they turned into brawls.

"We're satisfied customers. We have not found it to be true that people know the cameras are there and therefore work under the radar screen. Most are oblivious, especially if they've had a few drinks," said Giles, who manages 40 employees at Westbrook Lanes in Brooklawn.

In one instance a customer threatened to sue Westbrook Lanes for slipping on ice in the parking lot. When Giles ran the video, he said he saw the customer trip over his bowling bag. Westbrook is just one example of a growing number of applications of video surveillance.

Stoplights, toll booths, gas and train stations, dressing rooms, offices, banks, boats, airports, stores, bars, now feature surveillance equipment. If you're not a hermit, your picture is probably being captured dozens of times a day, a worrisome trend for privacy advocates.

From global security stirred by 9/11 and train bombings in Madrid and London to keeping tabs on children, pets and aging parents, manufacturers of video surveillance equipment are challenged to meet the demand and to remain current in a rapidly changing industry.

Managers like Giles no longer have to sit in-house and baby-sit video monitors. Now, with Web-based technology, they can call up the same images with a few keystrokes from their home computers or laptop.

"Awareness among end users is on the rise and they have far more options than they had earlier. Nongovernment use is expanding rapidly. Reduced prices and fierce competition are affecting the margins of the manufacturers, but the increase in volume will more than compensate," said Soumilya Banerjee, an analyst with Frost & Sullivan, a growth consulting firm.

In a few years, surveillance cameras for the home will be as common as central air conditioning, predicted Banerjee.

Worldwide revenues in the video surveillance market, which has a strong online presence, topped $4 billion in 2003. Five years from now the market is expected to approach $9 million, according to a Frost & Sullivan analysis.

"Not only is business good, it gets easier because the equipment has fewer bugs and needs less maintenance. As a rule, most of our customers are so pleased they order additional cameras," said Dave Costello, an installer for Liberty Electronics in Oaklyn.

Earlier this year Liberty installed surveillance cameras on a private home because the owners insisted their neighbors "were crawling on their bellies through the yard to snip their Christmas lights," said Costello, who remained neutral in the neighborhood dispute.

Keith Kanestrin, spokesman for Panasonic Security Systems, the largest manufacturer of security cameras and monitors in the world, said surveillance has become the company's fastest growing sector.

"Video surveillance has been around for more than 40 years and growing steadily for a decade. 9/11 heightened the public awareness and triggered a spike in government use at airports, mass transit and public buildings. A major obstacle for continued growth is to get information technology directors in the private sector to want the systems enough to give up the bandwidth it takes to run them," said Kanestrin from Panasonic's security headquarters in Secaucus, Hudson County.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey calls the explosion in video surveillance a "feel-good solution" to the bewildering epidemic of terrorism.

"Studies show the technology to be ineffective, that lots of time is spent in voyeurism. That crime simply moves from where cameras are to where they are not. This is not a good exchange for a Big Brother society," said Ed Barocas, legal director for ACLU of New Jersey.

"Certain businesses may feel they have the resources for this technology. Our major concern stems from government installing cameras instead of putting more cops on the street or using other more effective anti-terrorism methods. We should be equally unnerved by our loss of privacy as the fear of terrorism," said Barocas.


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