Current Surveillance Sites

Traffic cams –car

Perhaps the most obvious video surveillance in the Puget Sound is the Washington State Department of Transportation traffic cameras. There are over 250 cameras that monitor vehicle traffic spanning from Everett to Tacoma (north-south) and Issaquah to Seattle (east-west). Many of the feeds from these cameras can be viewed directly from DOT websites, enabling anyone with a computer and an internet connection to survey the roadways the Puget Sound. The feeds that are currently provided via the web are sporadic enough that tracking a single vehicle along an entire trip is not feasible. But if one had access to all of the feeds it seems this would be entirely possible.

Pioneer square –outdoors

The Pioneer Square Community Association plans to install three closed-circuit television cameras, or CCTVs, to monitor public areas as a way to prevent crime and make neighbors feel safer. With a $20,000 grant for a one-year pilot project, the neighborhood group said it will likely mount fixed cameras on private property to view parts of Occidental Park and the Yesler Way corridor near Third Avenue. Once installed, within the next two or three months, the Pioneer Square cameras will capture digital footage that would be kept for "a short time” according to project managers. In addition, the Sodo Business Association plans to mount two video cameras onto private buildings to nail graffiti artists who have been tagging buildings in that south downtown neighborhood. The cameras can all zero in to read a license plate on a van and be monitored in real time by the company providing the equipment.

IP cams –indoors

A group of Seattle-based restaurant owners needed advanced remote monitoring systems for their restaurants and bars. Although a few of the facilities already had analog cameras, the owners wanted a way to access the video remotely, as well as record and manage the images. Enter Internet Camera Solutions, Seattle, an IP surveillance solution provider that develops digital surveillance systems that allow clients to maximize profits, control costs and deter theft through the ability to monitor businesses from anywhere in the world. The company turned to Axis Communications, Chelmsford, Mass., for network cameras and video servers. With the Axis equipment, restaurant owners can view live images from their restaurants and bars via the Internet from anywhere. This allows them to keep track of customer service practices and employee safety, or prevent theft and vandalism, without spending as much time in each restaurant.

Police cars

Seattle has recently added a fleet of roving surveillance cameras. U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) announced $1 million in the fiscal year 2003 Commerce, Justice, State and the Judiciary (CJSJ) Appropriations bill to support the Seattle Police Department's efforts to equip police cars with digital video surveillance cameras. A member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Murray secured the funding to help make Seattle's surveillance system the first truly digital system in the country. Video cameras in police vehicles serve to bolster prosecution of criminal violations and traffic infractions, improve officer safety, and provide an objective record of police and citizen interaction. While VHS systems are widely used throughout the country, the tracking and storage is difficult and the technology is expected to be outdated within three to five years. Digital information can be managed, tracked and stored more easily and wireless systems will allow law enforcement to review remote images on a "real-time" basis.

War spying

In a new hobby termed 'war-spying', people search out hidden cameras, then eavesdrop on them by spying on the signals from other people's wireless cameras. Surveillance cameras are everywhere. Most are legal, but they see everything. "Just about everything you do out in public can be seen by somebody without you knowing it," says Doug Honig of the American Civil Liberties Union. In Seattle, wireless camera signals bombard you. Using the receiver is like looking through walls. A recent experiment by a local TV news station recorded the signal of a camera inside a closed tattoo parlor. They discovered a surveillance camera inside a locked apartment building. And one in an adult book store, the back hall of a restaurant, and they picked up wireless signals inside an art gallery, eavesdropping on their security. "So you can actually see our cameras?" asks gallery owner Bill Traver. They were showing him the view from his security camera right on their little monitor outside the gallery. "Interesting." Anyone could snoop on Bill Traver's gallery security -- an eye opener. "Well it kind of makes us change maybe a little bit about the way we might think about how we use our camera for security purposes." War-spying has become a new "techie sport" because the technology is cheap -- under a hundred bucks and it's easy to buy on the Internet.

Route of least surveillance

The Institute for Applied Autonomy, a group of technologists, and the New York Surveillance Camera Project, an offshoot of the New York Civil Liberties Union recently created a web-service called iSee. The site provides “routes of least surveillance” through the island of Manhattan. Users simply type in a starting point and a destination and the site searches its database of 2,400 cameras to find the rout least watched. At a time when video surveillance is more prolific than ever, the iSee site seems to be the response of citizens who are helpless to find any kind of privacy in their daily lives. They are a part of a growing number that are using the web to boycott this intrusion of privacy. While this service is currently only provided for Manhattan, Seattle is next on their list.


In the city of Seattle you are being watched virtually everywhere you go. Whether you are in your car, walking down the street, at work, out to dinner, or even relaxing at home, there is a good chance that someone out there can see what you are doing. As technology continues to increase, the number of cameras will surely increase, as will the number of people who will be able to access them. As the information above indicates, it will not be long before anyone in the world can watch you anywhere you go. With few answers to questions about how long recordings are kept, how the recordings are used, and who is able to access them, the potential for misuse is frightening.