Are Security Cameras Making You Less Safe?

Wireless Video Cameras Let Passersby Peer Into Your Personal Life

April 30, 2008—

Millions of Americans have wireless cameras in their homes and cars, purchased for security or to monitor children — but it turns out the devices could be making those they're meant to protect more vulnerable.

Reporter Tom Regan of ABC News' Atlanta station, WSB-TV, investigated how video cameras may be providing an unwelcome window into your private life.

From a baby's nursery, to a restaurant, to an office, private scenes proved shockingly easy to eavesdrop on with minimal equipment in a recent WSB-TV outing.

Regan's team bought a $100 rearview camera from a local auto parts store, installed it in an S.U.V. and simply drove around.

They were amazed by the images picked up by the wireless monitor that came with the rearview camera.

In one case they picked up video of the interior of an insurance office, seeing two workers chatting inside. At another location they picked up video of poker machines in a local convenience store.

They even captured a view of a camera mounted on the back of a tow truck as it pulled up to a car.

"The effect of these wireless transmitters, of course, is to take that which people may think is private, and put it into a public place to be intercepted," said Georgia State law professor Lynn Hogue.

How It Works

Rearview cameras can come with a wireless monitor. Security cameras in businesses and homes send out a wireless signal. So when a monitor nears those signals, it can capture and display images that you thought were private.

Video baby monitors offer parents the peace of mind of watching their infants in their cribs. As Regan's team drove through Atlanta neighborhoods, the rearview camera device picked up multiple images from baby monitors.

One mother who was shown the video that WSB-TV picked up said, "It's insane … it definitely creeps me out."

How You Can Protect Yourself

Technology Contributor Becky Worley Recommends:

Avoid analog cameras. However you're using a wireless device — for the Internet, a security camera or baby monitor — you have to know if it's going through the airwaves or if it's locked down and safe.

Analog cameras and monitors are the least secure, and they make up the bulk of the cameras. When an analog signal gets sent over the air, it's just like broadcasting a television show. Anyone within range can pick up the channel.

Instead, use digital or Wi-Fi cameras, which are more secure. With digital cameras and monitors, the signal gets scrambled into bits as it moves through the air, so it's harder to intercept and snoop on. With Wi-Fi, whether it's to use the Internet or monitor your home or child, you can set up password protection.

When you do that, anyone trying to pick up the W-Fi signal or image would need the password to gain access. But Wi-Fi cameras can be expensive and complicated. You need a computer that's always running, a special camera, and some other devices.

For people who have no choice but to stick with the basic analog cameras, the best thing to do is reframe the cameras to reveal less. Just reframe and focus the cameras so they reveal as little as possible about the situation, but still allow you to see that your home or child is safe. That way even if someone is snooping, they won't be able to make out anything specific.