Sponsored by Hunted on CBS
Off the top of your head, how many cameras do you think you encountered today? There’s the one on your phone, for starters. A few security cams outside work or your apartment building. A traffic light with built-in surveillance.
Now consider all the ones you didn’t see: the live feeds on ATMs, buses, trains, other people’s phones, lampposts, public buildings, gyms, malls, car dashboards. And that’s not even counting all the business and residential security systems that capture us on coffee runs, lunch breaks, dinner dates and the errands we all run every day.
I decided to conduct an experiment in Chicago where I live. On my morning commute alone, I counted 19 visible cameras from my apartment door to my desk at work. When I asked coworkers to do the same, one person encountered more than 30 cameras on his 9-minute walk. Other answers ranged from 3–21. We were all wrong.
Truth is, 93 percent of us dramatically underestimate the number of times we’re caught on camera . In a recent Google Survey, 70 percent of surveyed U.S. citizens guessed they were filmed between 0–9 times a day. Only 7 percent of the study’s respondents correctly estimated 65+ times a day. In fact, there’s probably a camera watching each of us right now.
Like most large U.S. cities, Chicago is covered in municipal cameras like those on traffic lights and others controlled by the police department. According to an independent study by Lucy Parsons Lab, Chicago has more than 50,000 cameras?—?with 46% on the public transportation system alone?—?and many more that monitor private property.
Jose Montelongo, owner of a security installation business in the city, says private camera usage has dramatically increased in the last 10 years due to the plummeting cost of the equipment. “I will honestly say that there is not one city block in Chicago that does not have some form of video recording,” he told me.
With these numbers in play, we estimate a big-city American encounters an average of 75 cameras per day.
Adam Schwartz, chief counsel to the ACLU of Illinois, calls this statistic a frightening number in his 2013 report on the city’s surveillance system, adding, “We [the ACLU of Illinois] think that when people go about their lives in public, they expect that the government is not keeping track of where they’re going and what they’re doing.”
This amount of surveillance can be beneficial?—?the Boston Marathon bombers were tracked using security footage, as was the Craigslist killer. But Professor Rajiv Shah at the University of Illinois, who’s been studying surveillance cameras in Chicago for 10 years, is quick to point out the inherent risks.
“If you look at the history of surveillance cameras, you will see that if there’s not a set of policies around them to ensure that there is accountability and transparency for how they’re being used, they get abused,” Shah says. “…like being able to stalk your ex, all the way to using it to blackmail someone.”
No matter the implications, omnipresent surveillance with public and private cameras makes it nearly impossible for someone to disappear?—?yet a group of people are ready to try just that.
On January 22, CBS’ new series ‘Hunted’ will follow 18 people as they try to outrun and outsmart a team of expert FBI and CIA investigators. Tune in, right after the AFC Championship, to watch this exhilarating real-life challenge begin.