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Database Nation by Simson Garfinkel

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The Eye On the Ground

Far easier than putting a spy satellite in space is installing a surveillance camera on a pole. Twenty years ago, many people considered video cameras to be an unwanted intrusion into their personal privacy. But today we've grown accustomed to them. Video cameras are now a constant presence in the world around us. They are in stores, malls, schools, and office buildings, on the streets, and even in our own homes. They are also getting harder to spot. The cameras no longer look like rectangular boxes with a lens at one end and a few wires coming out the other: these days, many video cameras are hidden behind a globe of smoked plastic. And there is the new generation of video cameras that are roughly the size of a box of matches. These can be hidden anywhere.

I remember seeing my first surveillance cameras in banks and late-night convenience shops when I was growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs of the 1970s. I didn't like the idea that I was being videotaped every time I went to deposit a check or buy a soda, but I understood why the cameras were there: our country has a history of bank robberies and late-night holdups. It seemed reasonable to accept the claim that the cameras would offer some kind of protection for bank tellers and convenience store clerks: even if the teller or clerk were killed in a holdup, the video record would help identify and, it was hoped, prosecute the perpetrator. I'm sure that if I were a clerk at an all-night store, I would want ...

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