The State of Surveillance Keeping Safe While Respecting Rights

George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 was all about how Big Brother was watching us. It isn’t hard to imagine what Orwell would think about today’s technologically-advanced world, where there are full-body scans at the airports, photos snapped by smartphones without permission, and cameras in hallways monitoring our every move. It has been more than three decades since the actual 1984 passed, and Orwell seems to have gotten it right — Big Brother is watching far more often than we realize, even in our own co-op and condo buildings. 

Spy Games? 

Surveillance equipment installed in common areas of co-op and condo buildings isn’t there to spy on what the residents are doing in their units, of course. Quite the contrary. The cameras are there to keep residents safe and their property secure, and to deter (and/or record) any wrongdoing by residents or outside intruders. “It’s a good idea to use cameras in common areas, because you can see people who get access to the building,” says Ed Mackoul, president of Mackoul & Associates, an insurance firm based in Island Park.

Years ago, surveillance of a building only consisted of a lonely guard who would spend many man-hours looking at feeds from cameras placed throughout the building (sometimes it was only one placed just in the lobby). “Today, you don’t need that manpower,” says Leni Morrison Cummins, an attorney with the Philadelphia-based law firm of Cozen O’Connor. “When there are incidents in a building, you can just narrow down digital footage to show you what was happening 10 minutes before and after when you think the person came in.”

One such example of how successful this technology can be occurred in September of this year when video cameras installed outside several apartment buildings in the Chelsea area of Manhattan captured the horrific explosion that injured dozens of people. Law enforcement professionals are able to examine these videos closely to discover the details they need to find and arrest the responsible parties. 

Attacks such as the one in Chelsea are among the reasons, Cummins says, that security in residential buildings has gotten tighter over the years. “Surveillance in co-op and condo buildings is tighter, but that’s both a product of terrorism and crime, as well as a product of technology. Technology is more accessible today, and it’s also less expensive and has better quality.”


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  • Great article. So important for residents to understand the reason boards upgrade their surveillance system. No board wants to hear what one board heard; "they installed cameras to spy on the staff".