A recent NPR story made a brow-raising reference to Houston: approximately 900 cameras are stationed throughout the city.
On a segment of NPR’s Fresh Air, host Terry Gross talked with National Geographic writer Robert Draper, a Houston native, about the state of surveillance in the U.S. today, and how we’re so accustomed to being surrounded by electronic eyes we get numb to how many of them are on us.
During the interview, Draper discusses how not only has government surveillance increased, but private citizens are increasingly using home surveillance kits and cheap camera drones to gain digital eyes on the world around them.
A Google search for ‘surveillance cameras, Houston Texas’ reveals dozens of dealers willing to sell you complete home surveillance kits. Drones and spy cameras can be bought on the consumer market.
Draper used Houston as one example of how disturbingly prevalent surveillance has become, right under the noses of the public:
…cameras, such as what we were talking about in London, which were deployed in London originally for terrorist-catching purposes, are also being deployed in places like Houston, Texas, where there is no history of terrorist activity, where there is no history of major crime sprees of, you know, like, the so-called inner-city crime problem in Chicago, for example, which has caused a major uptick in the use of CCTVs in the city of Chicago – is now being more or less duplicated in Houston where they have very quietly deployed about 900 cameras throughout the city.
Draper goes on to explain that while there isn’t a centralized surveillance hub in Houston like the one in the U.K.’s Borough of Islington, watchers nonetheless have the ability to call up cameras from around the city and watch whomever they have their eye on.
“I’m from the city of Houston. There is no Houstonian that I’ve talked to that is even aware that these cameras exist,” he told Gross.
Draper goes into more depth on the prevalence of surveillance cameras — from satellites imagery to home systems — that we may not even realize are watching us every day in his National Geographic article called “They Are Watching You-And Everything Else On The Planet.”
At the very top of the story is video of a man tracked down a street by cameras:
According to National Geographic, federal grant money paid for the installation of those 900 cameras in Houston. Dennis Storemski, director of the mayor’s office of Public Safety and Homeland Security, was inspired to push for their installation after a trip to London where he had a look at their surveillance systems.
“Basically, it was what I saw in London that got me interested in the technology,” Storemski said in the article.
“It’s not surveillance per se,” he added, because the cameras aren’t constantly monitored. “We’ve wanted to take away the expectation that people are watching.”
But they have the ability to watch.
And that can be a good thing. Recently, surveillance footage helped lead to the arrest of the men responsible for the brutal murder of a couple from Spring, Texas. Police were able to identify the vehicle in the footage, which eventually led to the capture and conviction of the killers.
The question still remains: how much surveillance is too much?