Caught On Tape: You're Being Watched

"Big Brother is watching you." George Orwell made that catchphrase famous in his book "1984." Today, some say his vision has come true.

Cameras are certainly in a lot of places these days. They're on the beat with cops. They're in supermarkets, office buildings and on some city streets. Some parents are installing cameras to keep an eye on their kids.

One father hid a camera behind a wall hanging in the family home, and caught his children and their friends drinking beer and playing strip spin the bottle.

By the way, parenting experts generally recommend that parents NOT spy on their kids.

"All spying does is tell a kid that the reason for doing the right thing is because you're being watched -- that doesn't instill any values," said Neil Bernstein, a clinical psychologist and author of "How to Keep Your Teenagers Out of Trouble: And What to Do If You Can't."

Increasingly, cameras are providing the proof authorities need to intervene. Some parents have planted cameras to watch their nannies while they're at work. In some cases, the tapes revealed abuse, and police have arrested nannies caught on tape abusing babies.

Surveillance video sometimes catches people who file bogus workers' compensation claims. They said they were too injured to work, but were healthy enough to be caught on tape running around outdoors. We have one tape of a corrupt chiropractor, caught coaching a patient to lie to collect insurance money.

And "20/20" caught an auto body shop making extra work for itself by taking a hammer to a customer's car.

This sort of targeted surveillance is clearly helpful, but what about government cameras that keep all of us under surveillance?

Cameras Patrolling the Streets

I recently drove around Wilmington, Del., enjoying the privacy of my car. But was it really private?

Since 2001, in Wilmington, a company called Downtown Visions has blanketed 70 square blocks of downtown with video cameras. They were watching me from a control room as I drove around town.

Police say this makes us safer. They have arrested 150 people because of these cameras.

Crime in Wilmington has dropped since the cameras were installed. Of course crime rates nationally have dropped, so it's hard to know how much difference the cameras made. Still, Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker is thrilled with the cameras.

"I think it gives people more security about being in the downtown area," he said.

Now maybe people should be afraid of the government? I asked.

After all, the town has their pictures. "Well, I'd love to have some crooks' pictures," Baker said.

But most people videotaped are not crooks. I find it somewhat chilling that the government is watching us without our knowing it. And it makes you wonder -- who exactly is watching?

Downtown Visions says it monitors its employees to make sure they don't zoom in on pretty women, make tapes for their friends or do other unethical things. But you have to wonder if all those surveillance companies are ethical.

Think about that if you ever drive through the wealthy community of Manalapan, Fla.

Authorities there want to catch burglars, so they not only photograph just about every car entering town, they run license plate numbers through police computers to see who's who.

Manalapan just made its first arrest with the new system. But is it a good thing to photograph everyone, including law-abiding citizens? Do we need to videotape the Sunday driver who is just minding his own business?

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