The Trifecta: 3 Surveillance Innovations that Could Change America

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since starting to write for, it’s that there are so many gadgets and gizmos out there, that it’s a wonder I can get anything done away from my computer.

I find myself constantly searching, always looking and forever entranced. So, given my long and uninteresting obsession with these matters, I’ve decided to spare you a long and uninteresting article. Instead, let’s break-down the three brightest stars of the week past in the surveillance world, in what shall forever be known as The Trifecta.

1) We Must Protect This House

I saw this Home Surveillance DVR on PVRWire and right in the title it says “Make Your House Completely Uncomfortable for Guests”. I love it.

Home Surveillance KitHome Surveillance KitIn the very near future, you could pay a cool $700 to remake your quiet home in Plainville into a modified Fortress America, sans the guns and cult-leader. This baby has 4 dome cameras, can store 80Gb in its hard drive, and can pin-point the exact second your neighbor gave you the finger when he finds out you won’t be returning his gas grill. Again.

I might be wrong, but didn’t one of the main character’s kids in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections want one of these? Creepy. (If you read the article on PVRWire, they cite Billy Baldwin in Sliver, but I’ve never seen that movie...I thought a vague literary reference might suffice for my article today). Seems to me that, unless you have a Van Gogh in your home – and who doesn’t – you might want to pass on this item. But just because I find it excessive, and just short of societal paranoia, doesn’t mean you should be dissuaded from buying it. To tell you the truth, if I had $700 to burn, a home surveillance DVR would make it on the short list of "Things To Buy To Piss Off The Neighbors".

2) Ex-Felon Drinking Games

I saw this early last week and couldn’t pass it up. Ankle bracelets that can detect alcohol through sweat. Not a bad idea for Big Brother. I mean...Uncle Sam.

Alcohol Ankle BraceletAlcohol Ankle BraceletThis fashionable item can placate everyone out there who fear Ex-Con's and the bad decisions they make while under the influence.

Sure, that's a hyperbolic statement, but it’s even tough for me to come up with something witty to say here. I’ve logged a lot of hours working on behalf of the public; specifically dealing with the acts of offenders before, during and after they serve jail time. It’s a known and documented fact that prisoners and ex-offenders have a high rate of alcohol and drug abuse. So something that attempts to keep track of their progress toward a sober life can’t be all bad, can it?

I think there might be some privacy issues associated with these ankle surveillance bracelets, maybe even some constitutional hurdles.  Even so, so why can't we make it mandatory for those who have an alcohol or drug related conviction to wear one of these? Sounds reasonable to me.

All in all, I don’t think I can complain too much about this gadget. Imagine if this was around when Ted Kennedy or George W. Bush got their alcohol convictions. I’d love to see those mug shots on the Drudge Report.

3) License Plate Camera's Gone Wild

Traveling on Interstate 90 between Chicago and Seattle? Better make sure that you're going for a good reason. The city of has won a grant to install cameras along the Idaho stretch that captures images of every license plate on I-90.

Day and night this bugger is on….tracking everything that passes by its lens. A grant from the Department of Homeland Security has made all of these cameras possible, but there is no telling to what end.

License Plate CamerasLicense Plate CamerasThe police seem to be satisfied with the "few stolen cars" that will be recovered from $125,000 worth of cameras. Now I get it. That's why we're throwing these cameras up there and surveying the movements of EVERY motorist…so we can catch a few stolen cars? Seems to me that we’re dropping a bomb to solve a problem, when all we need is a knife to solve it.

As a matter of fact, I think they already have an invention out there that’s been helping to catch stolen vehicles. It's called LoJack.

On the bright side, future use of these cameras might involve Amber Alerts, so that a kidnapper with a certain license plate can be tracked down, arrested and the child they abducted can be rescued. No one can argue with that. They also might be used to catch wanted criminals. Good stuff.

There is an underlying problem with any surveillance camera of this type, however. Eventually, criminals are going to know where they are and avoid them. So, unless we put up more cameras, we can’t catch all of the bad guys. But if we install more cameras, we blur the line between public knowledge and private rights. We’re locked in a Catch 22: the interest of law enforcement and privacy are now clashing because technology has made surveillance easier and cheaper.

If we were studying the flight patterns of migratory birds, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. However, now that our techno-culture is coming closer to achieving stand alone, live feed cameras with wireless access and 24/7/365 up-time, it might be worthwhile to question whether some inventions are innovative or invasive.

Don’t worry, I’ll keep at it. This won’t be the first Trifecta post, and I’ll keep you informed as I find out more.

Jefferson Smith
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