In the summer of 2022, Good Systems generously supported three undergraduate students to work with the Being Watched team. We were pleased to have Helen Kang (Informatics ’25), Abha Misaqi (Economics ’25), and Zak Turner (Mechanical Engineering ’23) working on various aspects of the project tailored to their own research interests. In this research blog post, Abha Misaqi provided a summary of her research into the business of surveillance in the U.S. context.

Big Picture

While the nation’s overall level of public surveillance is influenced greatly by the amount of funding the federal government provides to state and local law enforcement for surveillance equipment, the US federal government has little to no control over how a city handles surveilling their citizens, but depends on them to properly do so in order to keep the image of being a “well-watched” nation. In analyzing U.S. surveillance business, law enforcement, legislation, and equipment contractors are the major influencers. 


Texas law on video recording deems “invasive” recording as a punishable criminal offense. State law determines what circumstances require authorized electronic monitoring and provide services when requested by facilities and institutions, legislation surrounding consent of recording varies based on the environment.

Law Enforcement

Private contractors that provide surveillance systems to city law enforcement have varying intentions behind their trades and services. Discrepancies arise when each contractor offers different surveillance features, resulting in local law enforcements to have varying surveillance abilities based on the contractor they use. This variance can cause trouble with the citizens as evidence can be lost or not found, and data that needs to be created for a case may not be all because of financial decisions made by the law enforcement authorities responsible for choosing the surveillance equipment contractor.

Data Collection

As the need for surveillance increases, so do the financial incentives of the parties involved. Video surveillance is constantly in higher demand, leading to higher demands in video and software quality expected by airports, businesses, and cities worldwide. With the increased use of recording items such as body cameras and CCTVS, a lot of data is produced daily. According to an IHS Technologies report a few years ago shows that a single day of video surveillance is estimated to collect over 500 petabytes (PB) of data.

Organizations, land owners, and governments are struggling to balance the pros of surveillance such as safety, security and sound mind over cons of high maintaining costs, resources, and the development of stricter legal parameters.

LTFS allows data to be viewed in the same way that it is seen on a disk system

Tape technology is the lowest cost solution for digital data storage and can be stored on computers. The processing software is slow and is generally used for long-term storage and backup. 

Data Control

Private contractors can control their customers’ privacy rights by having access to surveillance data. In many cases, data collection can be vital for society’s sustainment, such as data collected and analyzed by the CDC for healthcare purposes. In the case of police body cameras, the design of the camera’s data collection can influence the data results. The two main companies behind body cameras used by police departments are Taser and VieVu.

Since these companies control the majority of the body cam market, there is little outside influence on the designing and structuring of how data is collected from body cameras.

Connections in Surveillance Among U.S. Cities

The concept of Fusion Centers came to be after 9/11 in efforts to create better collaboration between nations, state, and local law enforcement in surveillance logistics. As domestic and foreign threats change, each fusion center must adapt to the changes dependent on local circumstances. 


Like Austin, HALO (High Activity Location Observation) cameras are also used in Denver and New York City. Currently, there are over 276 active HALO cameras in Denver, Colorado.

A closeup of East Colfax Avenue and the 16th Street Mall, two corridors saturated with cameras. (City and County of Denver)

Stone Security, the proposed contractor, and maintainer of Denver’s future HALO cameras is another company that focuses on the “modern” integration of technologies with the physical world for the purpose of providing surveillance that is unique to its name. Similar to the HALO officers in the Austin police department, the Denver police department has technicians working 24/7 watching the surveillance footage and reporting called the Real Time Crime Information Center (RTCIC). Combination of prior surveillance technologies used by the department including the nearly 300 HALO cameras that are already in active use in Denver (which were launched by the Democratic National Convention in 2008). In Addition to the HALO cameras, the technicians at the RTCIC are able to access cameras that belong to Denver Public Schools (DPS), the Regional Transportation District (RTD), CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation) cameras, and even Coors Field (baseball stadium).


Chicago has one of the country’s most “extensive and integrated” network of government video surveillance cameras. The network is called Operation Virtual Shield. The city of chicago is not clear about how many active cameras there are in the city. Public reports consistently state there are over 10,000 public and privately owned cameras (in 2011) around Chicago that the city has access to – the city does not dispute these reports. Nearly all of Chicago’s downtown district’s public areas are video surveillance.

2017$549,220 (surveillance cameras)
2019$965,000 (cameras and license plate tech)
2020$1.1 million (cameras and license plate tech)
2022$4.3 million (cameras and license plate tech)


All private and public-owned cameras the city has access to are linked and monitored together in the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (“OEMC”). Chicago Aldermen have the ability to purchase POD cameras through the Neighborhood Menu Program (used by CPD), nearly 2000 POD cameras in the city to date, 1,260 in 2011. The city also has access to privately owned cameras in at least 11 buildings that all have cameras pointing to streets and sidewalks near them. Surveillance has reached an all-time high in the city and because of this, regulations are not caught up with its usage. Only a few top city officials have been able to officially impact the number of cameras used in the city and where they are placed.

The Chicago mayor submits a proposed budget to the city council who then conducts hearings on the budget including at least one public hearing that takes into consideration public opinion on the city’s budget and its allocations. Aldermen purchase POD cameras through the Neighborhood Menu Program and are the ones that decide where the cameras will be located and relocated within their respective wards.


Seattle implemented public engagement processes for its Surveillance Ordinance which prohibits the use of FRT (face reading technology) by most public offices. The Surveillance Ordinance was designed to provide greater transparency to the City Council and the public when the City acquires any technology that meets the City’s definition of surveillance. The Seattle City department is required to prepare a Surveillance Impact Report (“SIR”) which will include an in-depth review of privacy implications with an emphasis on equity and community impact. The city has a publicly visible visible “Master List” of all technologies the city has access to that are defined under surveillance.

Stages of Surveillance Impact – The Public’s Influence on Seattle Surveillance

Seattle has the most live video surveillance across the top 50 cities in the country with over 70 live cameras in the city, the majority being traffic cameras. Seattle also has very specific definitions of what surveillance is and what technology is defined as surveillance technology and implements high levels of public engagement on the city’s surveillance laws and implementations.