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Hack a security camera with a helium balloon

Make: has a wonderful way of dealing with security cameras.


This balloon-based anti surveillance camera project by Brooklyn-based artist William Lamson is an easy way to fool even the most sophisticated forms of surveillance technology. Helium filled rubber balloon set to the correct height and covered with enough static electricity to stick to any surface, such as a public camera. Now if only they made robotic pins for security officers to pop them.

50 comments to Hack a security camera with a helium balloon

  • Simple yet effective. Who said civil disobedience had to be serious?

  • RAB

    Love it!
    The merry pranksters live!

    I have always advocated paintballing the damn things.
    Forcing the Councils into a conflict with their accounts departments for the cost of cleaning them every month.

    But that is cheap and effective. Brill!

  • tranio

    I have no problem with security cameras, they have helped solve many serious crimes. What do I have to fear from them. Someone sees me scratching my balls!

  • BlacquesJacquesShellacques

    Oh thanks, very clever, very insightful, very helpful.

    I co-own and manage a large apartment building. I use security cameras to reduce vandalism and burglary.

    If you vandalize or disable my security cameras, or someone does it on your recommendation or using a technique like this what am I to do?

  • martin

    Cameras on private property aren’t comparable to CCTV in public areas.

  • BlacquesJacquesShellacques

    You’re right – vandalism, burglary and general assholery on public property are just fine.

  • RAB

    I hope you dont put your handle on a shingle
    on the front of your building Blacques…………..
    Or you are going to need to but a wider building!

    An honest British Police chief admitted just recently, that CCTV only solves 3% of crime
    and prevents none.
    You are wasting your money my old son.

  • Pa Annoyed


    Does CCTV cost more or less than 3% of the money spent on crime prevention?

    And how does he know how much crime it prevents? Do the police now collect statistics on non-crimes, ones that didn’t happen? When it comes to bureaucratic nonsense metrics collection, nothing would surprise me!

  • walt moffett

    Pigeons are very trainable animals. With the added benefit of getting animal rights folks involved in the fun.

  • I have no problem with security cameras, they have helped solve many serious crimes.

    I was under the impression the statistics say otherwise.

    Besides, solving crimes is less of an issue than preventing them.

    Coppers on the beat anyone? Or is that too low tech?

  • This fear of cameras is a littlw bit insane.
    Even if they solve only 3% of crimes they are a big help, or a small help, anyway.
    What’s the down side ? Has a camera hurt anyone ?

  • Lascaille

    One of the main problems with cameras is that they draw money away from solutions that do actually work. It may be cheaper to have cameras everywhere and a bunch of people in a central control room all watching them than to have actual police patrolling, but if you then say ‘we don’t have to have so many police patrolling so we’ll reduce the number of available officers’ all the cameras in the world don’t do any good if there’s no-one there to actually respond to an incident noticed by the camera supervisor – and that’s what’s happening – the money is being spent on cameras, face recognition software etcetera and isn’t being directed towards actual policing.

    That coupled with the fact that there’s no evidence that they actually do reduce crime, criminality or even increase conviction rates (due to the very low definition of most of the cameras around) doesn’t rate them highly.

    The astonishing proliferation of them despite all of the above naturally makes the more sensitive among us concerned that they’re being put into place for ‘other reasons’ q.v. population control, movement control, etcetera.

    Personally I think the mass rollout of CCTV cameras has more to do with the general herd-mentality of most of the current crop of leaders who simply follow whatever leadership trends are fashionable.

  • Midwesterner

    What do I have to fear from them. Someone sees me scratching my balls!

    Well, CCTV will certainly make it easier to convict tranio at August 2, 2008 05:00 PM, of lewd and lascivious behavior. Probably an ASBO is in order. REALLY, tranio, fondling yourself in public, in front of a CCTV camera no less! You are obviously a menace to public morals. And we have it video recorded. You are just the sort of person we can use to show how much crime we are prosecuting. 🙂

  • Pa Annoyed

    “This fear of cameras is a littlw bit insane.”

    Quite so. There is a tendency on the part of their critics to exaggerate the dangers, just as there is on the part of their advocates to exaggerate their benefits.

    I think it is a visceral thing based on dystopian fiction. George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eight Four” is the classic, but it’s a common theme in many other stories and films.

    But the point of Orwell’s cameras was that they were everywhere, not just in public, that there was no private sphere. A camera in your house is different. But a camera is just the equivalent of employing a man to sit there and watch, only cheaper. We can’t really object to cheapness (unless we favour higher taxes) and we can hardly object to the fact of being watched, when anybody else in the same public space has the right to watch us too.

    I suspect the problem is simply that the operators are perceived to be “the government” (even when they’re often minimum wage private contractors employed by government) that gives rise to the paranoia. Surprisingly, our equal faith in their incompetence and inefficiency doesn’t seem to convince anyone that they’re no particular danger because they simply don’t work.

    If there is a problem, it is the fact that other people can see you, can watch you, and might choose to respond to what you’re doing should it be moral but illegal, or legal but immoral, depending. It’s the attitude of being each others watchdogs, vigilantes for morality, empowered to ‘promote virtue and prevent vice’ (if you know the phrase) that chills.

    Cameras are simply a more visible symbol of being watched and of our actions being judged.

    “Even if they solve only 3% of crimes they are a big help, or a small help, anyway.”

    3% of all crimes would actually be astonishingly effective. Relatively few crimes are done in public, and the police only have a 20% clear-up rate anyway. But the statistic is misquoted.

    It was supposed to be 3% of street crime, and that’s based on one survey and counts only those cases where someone was convicted entirely on the basis of CCTV. Like most social science questions, it’s actually quite difficult to determine what’s really going on.

    What evidence there is seems to say that CCTV effectiveness is patchy – it can work if done right in conjunction with other measures and applied to the right situation – but often it makes no detectable difference.

    Assuming you accept the need for more security, then as noted above, the question is whether it is more cost-effective than other methods. 3% may be quite significant if it is both cheap in comparison to the cost of crime and if there are no other methods even cheaper. To argue against it, you need more data.

    Only 20% of reported crime gets solved/prosecuted by the police, by any method. That’s also quite a small number. Should we disband the police and courts entirely, then?

    “What’s the down side ? Has a camera hurt anyone ?”

    The issue I think we should be discussing is not whether they are effective at reducing crime, which buys into the security argument being made by the camera operators, but whether we want crime to be reduced and security improved.

    That probably sounds odd, since it’s so often taken for granted. But just consider it for the sake of argument for the moment.

    The problem is that the law is imperfect (and will always necessarily be so) and has the potential to go very wrong. People put up with such laws because they know that – for a price – they can get round it. That price may be risk of getting caught, or the price of employing smugglers, or significant technical effort to construct the necessary tools, or many things. The law does not stop things being done, it simply raises their price. It’s a valuable safety valve for those situations when the law gets it wrong – if the injustice is sufficient then you can choose to pay the price. (Think in terms of how it is better to end up in jail than in a hospital ICU, for an extreme example.) So we always want loopholes in security that allow us, to some extent and with some increased cost/risk, to break the law.
    Or to put it another way, never design a safe you can’t yourself crack.

    Thus, there is a trade-off between security and liberty. You will never eliminate crime, and it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how the world works to even try. The question should be, is the current level of crime acceptable? And while there are certain areas in Britain, particular parts of the big cities, where I’d say it isn’t, these are usually well known and easily avoided. For the most part, life in Britain is peaceful and safe, more so than it has been at almost any other time in the past.

    And when there are a lot of things being made illegal that shouldn’t be – smoking in buildings open to the public, drinking in public, being offensive to Muslims, copying music files you’ve bought in a shop, encrypting stuff, and so on – it can easily be argued that what you need is more loopholes.

    As with free speech, which you must grant to those you hate and who will misuse it so that you can be guaranteed it too, so it is with legal loopholes, which you must grant to be used by criminal scum so that you will always have a means of escape too.

    But it’s an interesting question with no clear and unarguable answer, and I know there are people here who follow a range of philosophies regarding the place of law and crime in a Liberal society. There is another view, for example, that criminals should be shot by law-abiding citizens defending themselves and their property. I’m sure this debate will remain lively.

  • BlacquesJacquesShellacques

    Maybe in the hands of half-wit, civil-service minded, British police (but I repeat myself) they only reduce crime 3%. In my building they have reduced it 90%.

  • Laird

    In your building, which is private property, I am perfectly happy for you to install security cameras. Your tenants probably appreciate it (and if they don’t, they can live somewhere else.) In fact, I’m happy for all private businesses to install them, if that’s what they want. What I am not happy about is predatory governments having the ability to track my every movement. Whether they actually do so or not isn’t the issue (I doubt that they have much interest in me anyway); it’s the mere fact that they have the ability to do so which upsets me. Forget the issue of efficacy; a reduction in the crime rate is far too high a price to pay for the loss of privacy.

  • BlacquesJacquesShellacques

    Laird, we are in agreement.

    What I want is for bloggers to be bit restrained in their presentation and make the distinction you make from the outset. This particular smirky post was annoying because it failed to do so and because the particular security cam blocked in the photo was one protecting a gas meter. What kind of eejit would block such a cam?

    Now, what do you say about this issue. Two of my cameras are set so they ‘see’ my building entrances. They also ‘see’ some stretches of public pedestrian sidewalk and public roadway. Is this offensive to anyone? If so, why?

  • Pa Annoyed


    Besides the observation that they can’t even track the criminals, let alone everyone on the street, a lot of the time it is private businesses doing it, and selling the service to the government. Or using the information for their own purposes, which may be as much contrary to my own as any government’s.

    Privacy is privacy – whether it is a government or a private corporation breaching it. Businesses are far more capable of “tracking your every movement” than governments are. A lot more of them make the attempt, too.

    You can claim if you like that private businesses have less power or pose less danger, (although I don’t think the point is necessarily obvious,) or that participation is more likely to be voluntary (as in: you don’t have to shop/bank/visit there), but you need to be clear that it’s not the loss of privacy that bothers you, but specifically a loss of privacy to the government. Or if that isn’t what you mean, then try leaving mention of the government out of the explanation.

  • Jacob wrote at August 3, 2008 11:26 AM:

    What’s the down side ? Has a camera hurt anyone ?

    Well there is this one reported by the BBC: A woman who was filmed naked in her home by CCTV operators felt “upset and angry” by the intrusion, a court heard. And here is a later report on verdict and sentence: Council CCTV workers jailed for spying on naked woman.

    While such events as this particular one (directing a camera to view inside a residential property) may be rather rare, there is plenty of scope for CCTV staff, as with all people given authority to invade privacy for crime prevention purposes, to misuse their access.

    Best regards

  • There was a case in NY where a camera at a train station caught a guy throwing another to the track in from of a coming train. Without the camera this would have been dismissed as a suicide or an accident. Thanks to the camera, the victim’s relatives recognised the perpetrator immediately and he was arrested.
    Give me one such case every couple of years, and I claim that cameras earn their keep with honors. And they have deterrence and crime prevention value, too.

  • Laird

    Pa, of course it is loss of privacy to the government which bothers me. Government is the organization which claims to itself a monopoly on the use of force (which, when you stop to think about it, is the only thing government is actually any good at). And it doesn’t matter to me if the cameras are owned/operated directly by an agency of the government or by a contractor. In the latter case it’s still governmental action; it makes no difference if the camera operator is paid a salary or under a contract. “Government” is a concept, not a person; the only way it can act is through actual individuals, and that’s what a contractor is.

    BJS (sorry for the use of initials, but your nom de web is too long!), I don’t care it some of your cameras happen to “see” a part of the public street. That’s not their purpose, and you’re not selling the feed to the government or doing it at their behest.

    Jacob, so you think that one isolated incident where a camera happened to catch a crime is worth everyone’s loss of privacy from 24/7 governmental monitoring? Why? Just so one family gets the satisfaction of knowing that it was a murder and not an accident or suicide? Is the guy any less dead? Lots of (most?) crimes go unsolved; one more or less is immaterial to the larger issue. I hate to have to trot out that overused Benjamin Franklin quotation, but in this context it bears repeating: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

  • Laird

    Oh, and BJS, why would you state that in this photo the camera is protecting a gas meter? It’s directed completely away from the meter, which just happens to be in the alley around the corner from the camera. Clearly, the camera is focused down the street; it has nothing to do with protecting the meter. (Anyway, why would any rational person put up an expensive camera to guard a cheap gas meter? Nonsensical.)

  • Pa Annoyed

    “Government is the organization which claims to itself a monopoly on the use of force”

    Tell that to the bouncers at my local night club. 🙂

    But seriously, it depends what you mean by “force”. Besides bailiffs and security guards and less official users of violence such as muggers and vengeful wives, there are other forms of coercion – financial, social, and regulatory. Yes, only the judiciary can legally throw you in prison (or a mental hospital), but you can wreck someone’s life with lesser power. And businesses (or private individuals) can of course use the government as a weapon for their own purposes. And frequently do.

    If the government have ever truly claimed such a monopoly, then they have botched the job as effectively as they have everything else. Government are not the only threat to liberty.

    But I think John Stuart said it better than I could, so here you go.

    Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is still vulgarly, held in dread, chiefly as operating through the acts of the public authorities. But reflecting persons perceived that when society is itself the tyrant — society collectively over the separate individuals who compose it — its means of tyrannizing are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates; and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling, against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development and, if possible, prevent the formation of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence; and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs as protection against political despotism.

    J S Mill, On Liberty, 1859

  • Laird

    Obviously, I omitted the word “lawful” from my phrase, but of course you knew that so the rest of your paragraph is just silly. As is much of the JSM paragraph. The “tyranny of the majority” is real only when it is legitimized through the use of government (which is why unfettered democracy is such an evil) or expresses itself via mob action (which is both illegal and immoral). There is nothing wrong with societal norms acting to constrain individual action, as long as they aren’t enforced through physical violence. That’s not “tyranny” in any meaningful sense.

  • Pa Annoyed

    It may not be “meaningful”, but it was the sense Mill intended it.

    Mill’s entire point was that there is something wrong with societal norms acting to constrain individual action, by non-violent means or otherwise, if it is done for any other reason than to prevent harm to others. Society should be under the same restrictions as the state. They can seek to persuade by means of free speech, but not to constrain.

    I’ll do you another quote, if only because it’s cool stuff and is good to remind people of.

    “The object of this essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil, in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to someone else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”

    J S Mill, On Liberty, 1859.

    Oh, and I had assumed you meant lawful – bouncers are perfectly lawful users of force. Any owner of private land can eject trespassers by force, anyone can carry out an arrest (albeit with some extra restrictions compared to coppers), and there is always self-defence. The government has never held any actual monopoly on legitimate force. That’s a simplification of Weber’s claim. The State, according to the theory, claims to be the sole source of legitimacy and authorisation for use of force. And even that isn’t true in the case of constitutional protections like the 2nd Amendment.

  • RAB

    I am intrigued to know what kind of trouble you had with your building before you installed the cameras that they have managed to cut by a whopping 90%

    Are they continually monitored in real time or are they taped?
    Do you have a hotline to the nearest police Station if trouble ensues?
    And what are the 10% problems you are still having?

  • Laird

    Frankly, I don’t understand the distinction you are trying to make between societal constraint upon someone’s choice of action “by non-violent means” and the employment of persuasion to that same end. They’re the same thing, except that persuasion may be overt and the constraining effect of societal norms is covert or implied. No substantive difference, though. But to the extent there is any distinction, I disagree with the proposition (and with Mill, but then that happens a lot).

    As to your other examples, in each case the use of force is severely constrained by the state. A bouncer can intimidate by his size, and help to eject the unwanted person through a minimal application of force, but if he gets too rough he can be arrested and/or sued. The same with any property owner; the force applied must be proportional to the threat (as was discussed in the recent thread here about some minor change to British “castle” doctrine). Try waving a pistol at someone on your land; you’ll be prosecuted for “brandishing” (and if you lucky that’s all). And no, you cannot make a “citizen’s arrest” except for a felony, and there again you are severely limited in the amount of force you can employ. The state reserves to itself the absolute right to control it all.

  • BlacquesJacquesShellacques

    Laird: The camera covers the approaches to the gas meter. There is almost certainly another one, or more, covering other approaches. I described the situation poorly in using the word protecting. Cameras protect nothing – at best they tell you who did the damage. The reason you want video of the approaches to a gas meter is that while the meter may be cheap, the damage from a natural gas fire or explosion is not. Even considering accident rather than malice, what happens if some bad driver hits one of those protective bollards enough to force it into the pipe causing a leak, which slowly fills the garage until some guy named Laird switches on the lights next morning?

    RAB: 1 burglary or act of vandalism per month, now down to 1 in the last year. Not monitored or taped but sent over the internet to off-site digital storage for a 30 day loop. Digital lets us find movement/sound quickly with analytical software.

    The videos are also displayed in the building laundry room so the tenants know the areas being watched. There are lots of signs advising of video security and all the cameras have pretty blinking lights. Hotline to the coppers is a non issue – our problem has always been secretive vandalism and burglary. Sneaky people rather than openly aggressive people.

    The remaining 10% was one incident of vandalism of one of the damn cameras, which is why I reacted strongly against this post. It forced us to move a few of the cameras higher off the ground or into protective and alarmed housings.

  • llamas

    BJS wrote:

    ‘Laird: The camera covers the approaches to the gas meter. There is almost certainly another one, or more, covering other approaches. I described the situation poorly in using the word protecting. Cameras protect nothing – at best they tell you who did the damage. The reason you want video of the approaches to a gas meter is that while the meter may be cheap, the damage from a natural gas fire or explosion is not. Even considering accident rather than malice, what happens if some bad driver hits one of those protective bollards enough to force it into the pipe causing a leak, which slowly fills the garage until some guy named Laird switches on the lights next morning? ‘

    Complete supposition, every word of it. Not an iota of evidence to support this entire fabrication.

    The image was captured in the US – in Brooklyn, as it happens. In the US, if someone seeks to protect a gas meter, they put a cage round it. For living proof of this, take a look at the back of any McDonalds restaurant, the next time you’re waiting in the drive-thru lane.

    Anyway, look at the site. The meter is physically protected by the building and the curb. The posts are there to keep pedestrians from bumping into it. In short, the presence of the gas meter in this image is pure coincidence. About the real purpose of the camera, we can say nothing. It may be intrusive surveillance – it may be a convenience for the parking garage entrance, just out of the picture. We cannot say.

    To the larger question, I say this – surveillance cameras in the hands of the government (according to statistics already quoted) are virtually useless at identifying criminals and bringing them to justice. How effective they are at preventing crime is harder to judge, but it is a little hard to accept that they can be hugely-effective at preventing crime when the data shows how useless they are at identifying criminals. To believe this is to believe that a criminal is scared off by something that does not significantly increase his risk of being caught – and that he does not realize that.

    Government cameras produce little or no benefit in terms of crime reduction, and they employ vast resources to do so. They are regularly abused, as in the incident linked above, but also more insidiously – in the UK, at least, there are regular stories of the police being called to investigate people who are doing absolutely nothing wrong, but who just look funny on camera.


    And, like any identification system based on human interpretation, it leads to error.


    And, of course, whenever CCTV might have shown anything which reflects poorly upon state agents or officers – it’s always missing. Cases too numerous to list, but the shooting of de Menezes is as good an example as any.



  • RAB

    Good points LLamas.

    Well I am glad that you have had such success with your cameras BJS.
    Like other posters here, I have no problem with what people do on, or with, their own property in order to protect it and their livelyhoods.
    Cameras have been in stores for donkeys years, to protect against shoplifting. I have never had a problem with that. Though as this Govt has seen fit to reduce shoplifting to an on the spot £80 fine, I can see their use in shops being non cost productive quite soon.

    No, my problem is with Govt, National and Local, blanketing the country in them.

    I live in Bristol. A city of 300,000 or so, but is very compact at it’s centre.
    If you walk from the North of town ( the Downs) down Whiteladies Road, right through the heart of the place, all the way to Templemeads station on the south edge, you are on cctv every inch of the way.
    I can understand traffic flow analysis would be useful, but why the total coverage?
    It’s not as if, as we keep saying, that these cameras actually prevent crime. Whiteladies Road is a main drinking area, and it is mayhem there every saturday night. Yet I see no police on the streets making arrests because of what is being seen by cctv.
    Who are the persons operating these systems and what accountability do they have?
    Give small minded Warden Hodges types shiny new toys of oppression and they will use them.
    For example covert surveillance of couples suspected of the hainous crime of possibly lying about their catchment area, to gain their children access to a good school, rather than the usual crappy ones. The wonderful wacky Council were using shiny new Anti-Terrorist Legistlation to cover that one!
    A diehard Marxist might think that a terrorist act, but the rest of us think it is bloody sinister and wrong.

    And who are the watchers? Of what quality are they?
    Some bored gimp with 3 GCSEs, or a qualified law enforcement person?
    The former I suspect, as with the ones mentioned above caught peeping on a naked woman in her own home.
    What also if the watchers have their own agenda.
    Say a fundamentalist Christian, Muslim or plain old bigot is one of the watchers, and sees a couple of gays having a kiss and a cuddle in the street. They then get in a car and you have the licence number.
    Perhaps they may want to indulge in a little personal persecution of their own.
    No. This has got to stop!

    Same goes for speed cameras too.
    One council has seen the light. Eastbourne I think, a Tory one anyway, and is planning to phase them out, or at least not subsidising them out of the Council Tax.
    Admitting that they are there mainly to generate revenue, and have very little effect on road safety.
    They will probably be stopped. The Govt are not best pleased with them!

  • Saladman

    Assuming they work at all, cameras will work just as long as no-one bothers to explore the possibilities of high-intensity infrared LED lights in hats(Link).

  • Sunfish

    in the UK, at least, there are regular stories of the police being called to investigate people who are doing absolutely nothing wrong, but who just look funny on camera.

    The city of Chicago has installed a whole bunch of public CCTV cameras, called PODs. I think I heard a figure that Chicago is now the most-surveilled city in the civilized world, outside of the UK, but don’t ask me to source that.

    Anyway, there are blogs maintained by CPD officers (anonymously, and very much without permission of CPD command staff or the Daley Crime Family). A common complaint is that the CPD budget is spent on buying cameras and hiring people to watch them. These watchers then have officers respond to parking violations or people selling individual cigarettes[1],

    Each of these calls downs a car for whatever time it takes to resolve the call: that’s a car that is NOT available to handle calls for service from the public.

    Each of the watchers is a chunk of money that could be used to hire a cop, buy a car for him to drive as he handles his calls and maybe tries to find some self-initiated activity, or (I mention this only for the sake of completeness, as it would never happen in Chicago) just not take from the taxpayers to begin with.

    However, nobody ever seems to mention an actual violent or property crime where the PODs contributed to an arrest or prosecution.

    I wouldn’t know from my own experience. The only public-sphere cameras we’ve ever had here were a flirtation with red-light cameras that IIRC turned out to be more trouble than they were worth. [2]

    [1] In Chicago, it’s illegal to sell cigarettes except in a sealed pack with a tax stamp, and the seller is required to have a license. IIRC, Chicago requires a city license and a city tax stamp on the pack in addition to Federal and state and county licensing and taxes.

    [2] I don’t think much of photo traffic enforcement. Most people might think having to mail in a check an irritant. A cop actually pulling the car over and interacting with the driver, even if no tickets are written in the end, is IMHO a better deterrant to future traffic violations. Leaving aside the objections to people being surveilled as they go about their lawful business, objections that I share.

  • llamas

    Sunfish wrote:

    ‘A cop actually pulling the car over and interacting with the driver, even if no tickets are written in the end, is IMHO a better deterrant to future traffic violations.’ –

    . . . . as well as often being the mechanism by which serious criminals are apprehended and serious crimes discovered.

    Peter Sutcliffe was apprehended because two coppers walking a beat saw his vehicle illegally parked and stopped to speak with him. A camera operator would have tagged him for a FPN and moved on to more important things, like peeking into windows.

    The Ipswich murderer (his names escapes me for the minute) was caught because he was stopped by actual police officers. There was enough CCTV footage analysed in that case to choke a horse, and I believe that more than one of the victims was extensively covered by cameras through large parts of her final hours – except for the one little bit, where he attacked and killed her.

    Ted Bundy was caught the first time because he was pulled over by a traffic policeman, and caught again after his escape during his first trial by traffic officers who pulled him over on suspicion of DUI, then again following his second escape by yet-another traffic officer.



  • “everyone’s loss of privacy from 24/7 governmental monitoring?”

    When you go out into the street, a public space, you bare yourself to the public eye, you don’t have a right not to be looked at, or not to be photographed. So I don’t think cameras in public spaces cause loss of privacy.

    They may be ineffective, I don’t know about that, but they are not offensive.

  • RAB

    I seem to remember a thread here a while back, about a gent who was taking snaps in what was obviously a public (but pedestrianised) shopping street.
    He was pounced on by store security guards and told that it was illegal to take photos of the street and of the officers and indeed of the Police who were called to arrest him. (this is a lie of course)

    So it seems that the powers that be think it perfectly ok to watch our every move in a public place, but if we try to reciprocate the arrangement, they want to bang us up!
    Hmm. That’s pretty fuckin offensive to me!

  • llamas

    Jacob wrote:

    ‘When you go out into the street, a public space, you bare yourself to the public eye, you don’t have a right not to be looked at, or not to be photographed. So I don’t think cameras in public spaces cause loss of privacy. ‘

    All true, of course. But you cannot discuss this in the context of being casually observed on the street – of being ‘in the public eye’ because

    – cameras (can) record what you do
    – cameras (plural) can form an organic network which do not merely observe you in passing but which follow you around – this technology is well-known to be in place in the UK already.
    – cameras can observe you in ways which the naked eye cannot, eg in the dark, or using infra-red detectionand other forms of to examine your person, your effects and your property in ways invisible to the naked eye. Once again, already in place and in use in the UK. If your attic insualtion is not up to par, don’t be surprised to have the busies show up on your doorstep demanding an explanation.


    – cameras can provide data to a much-larger integrated network which can detect and/or extrapolate and/or assume things about you that would not be possible from simple observation.

    In other words, don’t think of the government’s
    camera as an isolated equipment that conicidentally observes you in passing – think of it as an agent of the state that follows you wherever you go, looks in your pockets and your windows whenever it wants to – even if the curtains are closed – and tells whatever it trhinks it sees to any other agent of the state that asks – and all without your knowledge.

    Still seem so benign to you? If it were a private individual doing this, would you think that your privacy had been violated?



  • BlacquesJacquesShellacques


    It was supposition. Educated supposition. What’s your experience with placing cameras?

    Fabrication? Really? What was fabricated?

    Perhaps your suggestion that the picture came from Brooklyn. By following the links I found the information that the picture was taken by a Brooklyn based man. Did you assume he could not leave Brooklyn? Did he tell you where he took the photo?

    Perhaps your assumption that this camera is on a public building and aimed at public property? Who told you that?

    You say: “The meter is physically protected by the building and the curb.” True.

    You say: “The posts are there to keep pedestrians from bumping into it.” Not likely correct. The posts are called bollards and are to stop vehicles from bumping into the meter. The opening to the right of the meter seems to me to be for vehicles. Bollards like the ones I see are not (in my actual real world experience) used for pedestrians and are too weak to take a push from any heavy vehicle.

    You say: “In short, the presence of the gas meter in this image is pure coincidence.” Could be, but I doubt it.

    You say: “About the real purpose of the camera, we can say nothing. It may be intrusive surveillance – it may be a convenience for the parking garage entrance, just out of the picture. We cannot say.” No but we can make assumptions and have opinions. When this site and many of the commenters openly or implicitly tout this vandalism as a good idea based on opposition to state snooping I think it a reasonable thing to question the assumptions that this particular camera was a state snooper or not.

    If your test is complete factual rigour then the commenters can all quit. Perhaps we should quit, for making assumptions and reaching conclusions based on limited evidence and experience turns us into lying fabricators.

    I think you failed to note that I disavowed my earlier mistaken use of the word ‘protecting’ so there was no real need to demolish me on that point.

  • llamas

    BJS – you say ‘supposition’, I say ‘assumption’ – a distinction without a difference.

    Your ‘fabrication’ is that you made up a complete story about how this image shows a camera whose function is somehow connected to the gas meter below it – complete with other’alleged cameras, and all sorts of justifications avbout what it was there for. As I said – if the purpose was to prevent bad things from happening to the meter, then the logical thing to spend your money on is iron and concrete, not a camera which will do absolutely nothing to prevent bad things from happening. You have no data on which to base that entire story.

    The ”bollards’ are (by visual scaling) perhaps 3″ in diameter – far too small to have been intended to hold back an auto. And – if you look closely – you’ll see that the bolllards and the gas pipe come out of a raised surface – raised too high for autos to drive onto. I suippose that it’s possible that this is in fact a driveable surface, entered from some other point out of the picture – but it has no curb to prevent autos from drving off it.

    That’s why I said that they were likely there to prevent pedestrians from bumping into the pipe – based on actual observation that this is not a driveable area, and not on suppositions.

    FWIW, I suspect that this is a loading dock aka trash dock, such as we see in the alleyways between NYC apartment buildings. But I cannot prove that so it remains my supposition.

    I made no assumption about whether the camera is on a public building and/or whether it is aimed at public property. I have no idea where you got that from. As I said – we cannot say.

    You are right – I assumed that this was in Brooklyn. I stand corrected.



  • Laird

    Jacob, re your quote from one of my earlier posts: I agree with the responses you got from RAB and llamas, but I would also add that you apparently overlooked what I consider to be the most important word in the phrase – “governmental”. To me, there is a big difference between casual (or even not-so-casual) observance by the general public and volitional photographing by the government. You’re right; I have no real expectation of privacy when I’m out in public places. But I believe I do (or at least should) have a reasonable expectation that my every move isn’t being recorded by government agents.

    BJS: None of us (probably not even the person who took the photo) knows the reason the camera was placed where it is. But if, as you posit, its purpose was purely for the security of the meter it should have been pointed in the opposite direction, that being (from all appearances) the most likely route a vandal would take (not coming from around a corner). Also, as you conceded, since a camera provides no “protection”, its only real value would be in identifying the vandal, which would be impossible given the camera’s placement. So I continue to believe that your assumption as to its purpose is erroneous.

    Also, I strongly object to your use of the word “vandalism” in this context. Smashing the camera, or paintballing its lens, would have been vandalism. Placing a harmless balloon in its field of view is anything but. Indeed, that is what makes this method of dealing with over-intrusive public monitoring so delightful: it is somewhat whimsical and causes absolutely no property damage. Please choose your words with more care.

    Saladman, I am going to have to look into making one of those hats! Thanks for the link.

  • RAB

    I will take the wrap for the vandalism charge chaps.
    It was I, after all, who advocated the paintballing.

    I have never actually done such a thing by the way, but have been mad as hell enough to on occasion, if I had a paint gun handy.

    Mainly against the speed cameras though.

    My wife has been driving for 30 years. She is a superb driver who has never had a ticket in all that time, until the last two, when she has managed to pick up nine points on her licence for slightly exceeding the speed limit.
    One more ticket from these bloody minded cameras and she would have lost her licence. She works for the MOD and her job is to visit and sort out problems for our war heroes who have come back from Iraq and Afganistan with bits of their anatomy missing, or arranging pensions for the spouses when, God forbid, they come back in a box.
    I would be a shame to lose the services of a dedicated professional to this kind of nonsense, wouldn’t you agree?
    The last time was when we were coming back from Stanstead at 4 in the morning with not a car in sight in either direction. We wern’t doing 70 even!
    Road works, the signs said. Speed limit 50.We saw no friggin roadworks! But the camera saw us.
    Ching ching! put it in the till.

    I refer you all back to Adrianas post of 5.04 pm, and her links.
    And note with some amusement, that even the Management gets smited sometimes. Cos I’m sure that post wasn’t there earlier! 😉

  • Laird

    RAB, you might be able to modify Saladman’s LED hat to work around your wife’s license plate. Also, I’ve seen internet ads for some sort spray which allegedly makes license plates unintelligible in photographs (I have no idea whether it works, though). Your wife might try investing in one of these ideas.

  • RAB

    Not a bad idea Laird.
    Except that she is probably the most honest person any of you will ever meet.
    Some here may take it as wanton vandalism of the State Coffers.

    I am reminded of an old Steven Wright joke.

    I came home late last night a bit drunk, and tried to open my apartment door with my car keys.
    The damn building was half way round the block before I could stop it.

  • Laird

    So don’t tell her. Buy the spray and sneak it on! (You only said she’s honest; you didn’t say anything about yourself!)

  • llamas

    Laird wrote:

    ‘Also, I’ve seen internet ads for some sort spray which allegedly makes license plates unintelligible in photographs (I have no idea whether it works, though). Your wife might try investing in one of these ideas.’

    The US TV show ‘Mythbusters’ tested a range of alleged masking methods for license plates. None were effective.





  • RAB

    Too risky Laird mate.
    She always finds me out, whatever I get up to.
    She’d kill me!
    And given what Harriet Harridan is trying to do to the Murder laws, she’d out in no time, and living the life of riley in a villa in Italy!

  • Laird

    RAB, you are over-insured.

  • RAB

    Na! Jus kiddin.
    She’s a good woman.
    Kind to animals.
    She wouldn’t hurt me.

    A little musical postscript.
    Their red not yellow, but what the hell.
    Always a kickin little tune.


  • security camera systems

    do you think this is a good idea?