Surveillance cameras at Seattle’s 5 Point Cafe.

Technology certainly played a crucial role in the hunt for the two Boston Marathon bombers, whether it was important smartphone pictures from the public or the forward-looking infrared cameras that spotted suspect No. 2 in the backyard boat.

But the best piece of evidence may have come from a Lord and Taylor department store security camera, which provided video of one of the suspects dropping his backpack at the spot of the bombing.

Yes, we like our privacy. To some of us, it’s uncomfortable to think that cameras seem to be always watching our every move. But the fact is that surveillance cameras helped the FBI solve this complicated crime and allowed the city of Boston to live in peace.

And this it isn’t the first time. Back in 2005, CCTV recordings helped pin down the terrorists who carried out the London bombings. Surveillance videos also captured the Tucson shootings in 2011.

This is certainly a hotly-debated topic. One of our most popular and commented posts of all time centered on the so-called “Creepy Camerman,” also known as the guy who went around Seattle, walking up to people and recording them for no apparent reason other than to make a point: How is what he’s doing different than those stationary surveillance cameras tucked away in buildings and public places?

You can watch one of this videos above for a better idea. Technology author and blogger Brian S. Hall made the point that this could be a preview of our future, with technology such as Google’s Project Glass making cameras and recording devices even more pervasive in our daily lives.

Google Glass has already sparked privacy debates.

Google Glass, the company’s high-tech spectacles set to hit shelves later this year, have also sparked privacy debates. Here in Seattle, the 5 Point Cafe became one of the first establishments to declare a ban on Google Glasses to prevent its patrons from being recorded, even though the 5 Point has its own surveillance cameras.

But some, like Farhad Manjoo over at Slate, say we actually need more cameras. Manjoo wrote a well-thought out piece and ended his thoughts with this:

Cameras helped the FBI find persons of interest in the marathon bombing. But could they have done more? I can’t tell you if the marathon bombing would have been prevented if Boston had a larger network of cameras being monitored by software or human operators. It’s certainly possible that if the cops were watching the scene in real time from 100 different angles, they might have missed something. But at least they would have had a chance to see something. That’s better than staying in the dark.

So what do y’all think? Will we arrive at a point when every single little thing is recorded, a la The Truman Show? Wouldn’t that help to solve these types of crimes or even prevent them? Or should a privacy line be drawn permanently?

Comment with your thoughts below.

Previously on GeekWire: Google Glass half full: Why that ‘ban’ may not be needed

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  • Garrantsson

    Sounds sort of like the “iron curtain” to me, i.e. former Soviet Union.

  • Charlie64

    Public is public. I support it. Technology can play a major role in security as proven in Boston. If you’re a law abiding citizen, what’s the issue? If you need privacy 24/7, stay home.

    • Guest

      Well, the issue is that you are giving away your freedom for security. Not a big deal for law abiding citizens when times are good, but regimes do change. Maybe not in 5 years, but perhaps in 10, 20. And then you may have a totalitarian regime in power (perhaps emerged out of a crisis) that uses the same surveillance system to hunt down inconvenient people, critics, gun owners, homeless people, gays, jews, you name it. It all happened before. No democracy lasts forever. So much for not being an issue for law abiding citizens.

      • charlie64

        Good point but I would hope the citizens would respond if and when it ever came to that. For now I say take advantage of current technologies to keep us safe and possibly deter atrocities like Boston.

        • Guest

          Yeah, one would hope that. The problem with governments is that they are using a boiling frog strategy. By the time the general population realizes what’s going on, it’s usually check mate.

          Law enforcement clearly did well finding those terrorists without a comprehensive surveillance system (and they did a GREAT job at that!). So there’s really no need to monitor every citizen at all times.

          • Number Six

            Not to mention the idea is ‘deterrence and prevention’ not ’24-7 monitoring that supports law enforcement fishing expeditions in peacetime’

            I applaud the quick, efficient and hard work that went into this effort – but monitoring everyone everywhere 24-7 is not the answer. Ask any police state that has existed in the past – are most of them still in business?

            The problem in our case is that we’d likely end up in a partial dystopian version where people are free to complain but not free to challenge. Even the overreaction in Seattle during the WTO had examples of this, despite problematic teenagers and 20-somethings whooping it up alongside….

            There’s no easy answer, which is why we have to make the effort to TRY and not simply hide behind technology….Orwell may have missed it by 20-something years but 9-11 surely brought his vision to pass….

    • Mark

      The issue is we don’t all agree with what the law should be. If you need 24/7 security, lock yourself in a padded room, ingrate.

  • Mike Mathieu

    Do they still teach Orwell’s “1984” in high schools these days, or does that seem passe because it’s 2013?

  • Tenn_Jed

    Ask people in the UK, where the density of closed-circuit TV is much higher than in the US. The existence of cameras per se is not terribly scary, but there are automation technologies under development (and already here) for Video Content Analysis and Facial Recognition that are much more menacing in a “Minority Report” kind of way. Someday (soon?) It will definitely be possible to find someone and track their movements across video coverage boundaries, in real time, based on a photograph. This is powerful capability, and requires no warrant. Given the increase in computer power and storage availability, it’s conceivable that an entire political group could be monitored outside their homes on a 24/7/365 basis. Furthermore, these CCTV systems can be hacked (like any network) and used for criminal purposes and mischief of various kinds. I think we need to look down the road a bit and try to understand where this technology is going, or could be going, before making surveillance ubiquitous.

  • Thiago

    I’m glad that it helped, but I think security should be reserved for private interests. Businesses or home owners looking to protect their property. I’m not keen on public surveillance. Thiago | http://www.securedbytriton.com

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