Avoid Nosy Video Surveillance Cameras

Posted 19 Jan 2010

Video surveillance cameras are everywhere.  What would it be like to be Tom Cruise's character in Minority Report, walking through a public space unable to avoid video surveillance cameras that know who you are?  Kinda creepy, huh?  This technology is on the verge of widespread implementation around the world. 

Tommy got an eye transplant in the movie, which solved the problem.  Unfortunately, modern facial recognition software relies on several reference points so changing just a few traits, like two baby  blues, is usually not enough.  I like to have fun.  Sometimes that means doing something thrilling like skydiving or bungee jumping, and sometimes that means innocently and harmlessly being a trouble maker.   So, in that spirit, lets make some trouble.

Although public video surveillance cameras are found all over the place, especially in large cities and particularly in the UK, they are keeping an eye on you to make sure you don't do anything you aren't supposed to.  Their impact for good is minimal but their potential for misuse is great.  What is even more frustrating is the fact that the watchers are trying to keep the watch-ees from watching back.   So here are a few of the weaknesses that public video surveillance camera systems currently have.

Red Light and Speed Enforcement Video Surveillance Cameras

Red light cameras and speed enforcement cameras are a big part of the problem.  These cash machines are not intended to, and do not increase safety.  In many cases they are not properly calibrated or there is a malfunction in the unit capturing innocent people in the crosshairs.  In order to avoid being captured improperly, people can first avoid the cameras altogether by knowing what streets and highways to avoid.  In the US, photoenforced.com has a great list of these camera systems throughout the country.

If there is a need to frequent these areas, the red light and speed camera systems have difficulty establishing proof of guilt if the drivers face is obscured while near the intersection.  Each state and even each judge will have slightly different requirements for conviction, but some simple examples are putting the sun visor down low while in an intersection or wearing a sombrero pulled down low while driving. 

Some have even driven a car configured for driving in the UK (driver sits where a passenger normally sits in the US) so there will be nobody in the drivers side of the car for the picture.   There are some other weaknesses and thoughts at highwayrobbery.net, but be sure to consult an attorney about your unique circumstance before relying on any of them as advice.

Avoid Surveillance Cameras

There is a really fun feature in NYC called isee which allows individuals to map out the path of least surveillance when walking in NYC.  I am surprised that this has not spread more quickly to include more areas. 

If you can't map out ahead of time to avoid the cameras, a laser pointer aimed directly at the lens of a camera has been shown to obscure the image of many surveillance cameras.  This does no damage to the camera.  Infra red LED lights can also be used to obscure the image of some video surveillance cameras when aimed at the lens and don't emit any visible light that can be seen by other passersby.

Low Tech, High Effect To Avoid Video Surveillance Cameras

Like using a low tech hawala system, possibly the most practical and easiest way to avoid being identified on video surveillance cameras is to wear a hooded sweatshirt or coat with your face buried deep inside the hood.   Also, most cameras are mounted several feet overhead so looking down helps obscure identity. 

This is easier done in Minneapolis than in Miami but I'm sure appropriate modifications can be made to blend in with the fashions of warmer climates.  Even celebrities use this simple method to do their best to avoid "unwanted" attention.


These are just fun observations of the weaknesses of constant public video surveillance.  It takes little effort to avoid most video surveillance camera scrutiny.  No eyeball transplant necessary.  Maybe a thourough read of the book How To Vanish would help too.