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How many cameras are watching you? CommunityCam Denver wants to find out

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Are you disturbed at the prevalence of video cameras that seem to be recording your every move? Or do you see such devices as enhancing safety, because they may dissuade predators from committing crimes in areas where they're present or help bring them to justice if they do so?

The folks with CommunityCam, a site just starting in Denver, are firmly in the latter camp -- and they're hoping that crowd-sourcing will help them map the location of most, if not all, outdoor cameras in the city.

"We conceived of CommunityCam at the end of last year," says founder Josh Daniels, whose main company, VideoSurveillance.com, is an online retailer of the very gadgets the new site catalogs. "We launched the project in Philadelphia, and subsequently went into other cities, including Portland, San Francisco and, in the past few weeks, Denver. And we're really excited about the coverage we've received so far. We've already mapped over 500 cameras in the Denver metro area."

Here's a CommunityCam screen capture of Colorado, with the latest number of cameras in the Denver area listed at 567:

Next, check out a closer look at Denver metro, with designations for the number of cameras mapped thus far in assorted suburbs, plus Boulder and the city itself: Finally, here's a zoom-in of downtown Denver, with icons marking the locations for dozens of cameras, many just steps away from each other: The current total hardly represents all the cameras in Denver metro. That's why CommunityCam features tools to let users add ones that have not yet been mapped -- and Daniels feels that the more complete the data is, the better.

"This information was not in the public domain before," he says. "The location of security cameras has never been mapped on such a large scale. And at this point, CommunityCam has got over 10,000 cameras mapped in the U.S. alone.

"The cameras can be both private or publicly owned," he adds. "They just have to be in the public domain -- have a public exposure. The CommunityCam initiatve isn't intended to map private cameras that are on the interior of a business, for example. We're more interested in the ones you see walking around downtown Denver or, really, any urban or suburban setting. The cameras are ubiquitous: They tend to be mounted in places that are not that obvious. But for someone like myself, who's been watching this development, they're pretty easy to see."

Is this a good thing? Daniels thinks so.

Continue for more about CommunityCam's launch in Denver. "The map provides consumers primarily social benefits -- things like being able to plan safer, monitored routes for jogging, biking and walking," he allows. "Obviously, Denver has a very active outdoor population of people, and this allows communities like neighborhood watch groups to take an active role in preventing and solving crimes and identifies where video evidence may be found after criminal acts have been committed."

He uses an incident in San Francisco as an example: "Unfortunately, there was a biking fatality, and the initial San Francisco Police Department investigation found that the biker was at fault in an accident with a truck. But after investigation, video surveillance evidence found that the truck was, in fact, at fault."

Could criminals use the map in order to target areas where there aren't any video cameras? Daniels doubts it. "The research we've evaluated hasn't shown that the presence of cameras has moved criminal activities to other areas," he says. "It's shown that it has simply reduced criminal activities around the cameras."

Likewise, he cites surveys after the Boston Marathon bombing that showed most people see a benefit in cameras. And while he acknowledges that "some have concerns about surveillance, my response is that, individually, I don't have an expectation of privacy in a public setting. My feeling is that the police, the FBI or my neighbor could be watching me walking down the street or going to a park. And for most people, the positive benefits of cameras outweigh the concerns.

"We live in a country where, unfortunately, we have terrorism to worry about. We have break-ins. We have hit and run accidents that can be fatal. We have bullying incidents near schools and parks -- and we don't always have a lot of ways to combat or investigate these incidents once they occur. But if video evidence is of high quality, it's nearly irrefutable. It's one of the few mechanisms we have to investigate and combat these kinds of incidents."

As such, Daniels goes on, "we really want to get the word out among the people in the Denver metro area to help with the mapping effort. There's free registration on the site that allows anybody to map cameras they see in the public domain, so we can get as close as possible to full coverage."

To visit CommunityCam Denver, click here.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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