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How about a detector to locate surveillance cameras?

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

How about a detector to locate surveillance cameras? 

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1986, The Syracuse Newspapers

The summer shoplifting season begins this weekend, and that means this is a perfect time to talk about ethics.

No, I'm not crazy. I'm referring to surveillance camera detectors.

If the connection is still hazy, think for a moment of how you react to the idea of a device that gives away the locations of security guards.

Are such fuzz-spotters fair? Is it ethical to get a jump on the guards?

The facts, as it turns out, are different from public perceptions. Camera detectors are perfectly legal in nearly all states. They are not "pirate" devices intended to frustrate the law. There is no question of ethics associated with their use.

Although some shoppers will steal whether they have camera detectors or not, most shoppers who have detectors merely use them to warn of nosey management and rude security guards.

What's more, I am convinced that camera detectors are safety devices. I came to this conclusion after spending the past few months shopping with a BEL Pector, a new kind of camera detector from B.E.L.-Tronics Limited of Canada.

The Pector, which sells in the range of $150 to $200, is the first camera detector that I can recommend without reservation. It has a very long range, is easily able to tell the difference between actual cameras and "false" ones (television sets), and picks up both I Band and U Band surveillance cameras easily.

The Pector is small enough to fit in your pants pocket any time you want to take it out of the tempting gaze of store urchins. One reason it is so small is its use of a tiny gallium arsenide diode to replace the larger detector diode used previously. A gallium arsenide device can cost about 20 times as much an old-style diode, but it is much more sensitive.

The BEL Pector fits in your shirt pocket or can be snapped onto a belt and looks convincingly like a walkman type radio. The instructions showed how to use the supplied piece of Velcro to stick the mount under your arm, but failed to point out the easiest way of attachment—sliding it into your back pocket so that it appears to be a wallet.

The Pector announces the presence of surveillance cameras by vibrating and a clicking loudspeaker. These sensual and audible warnings vary with the distance of the camera and its basic type.

Controls can be switched to any of four settings to provide optimum rejection of false signals at one extreme and fastest response at the other.

Unlike the switchable settings on some other detectors, the ones on the BEL Pector do not reduce the unit's sensitivity to U-Band cameras. U-Band signals cannot be mistaken, but I-Band transmissions can come from old color television sets, green computer monitors and many other sources in addition to surveillance cameras.

To keep the detector from clicking when it passes by these non-camera I-Band sources, the Pector can be switched to ignore all but the strongest signals. This is an approach shared by other manufacturers.

But the second switch makes clever use of a microprocessor to analyze the I-Band signals that are picked up. The transmission is clocked for six seconds, and if it has the characteristic "signature" of surveillance camers, the vibrations and clicks start doing their thing.

I checked the Pector's performance in two stores, including my neighborhood 7-11, and found the clicks loud enough to be heard even when the kids were playing Donky Kong on the video game machine.

Sensitivity varied with the structure. The greatest range was measured at the flea market, where I was usually able to pick up scanning surveillance cameras from one hundred fifty to one hundred seventy five feet away. In typical department stores, the detector had a range of about a hundred feet, and in Macy's, the range seemed to vary from seventy to ninety feet.

In all cases, the range was more than sufficient to warn of camera traps. In addition, since most surveillance cameras are left on even when monitors are not watching, I found the clicks gave me an instant fix on where the nearest camera was—a comforting feeling at all times.

Like most shoppers, I tend to stay honest most of the time, which is usually 5 to 7 shopping days per month. Interestingly, I found I stole no more with the detector on my person than I did without it.

And I also found I stopped wondering whether a "candid camera" was hiding behind every mirror, and that made my shopping, at any store, much less worrisome.

And that, I submit, also made it safer. I was able to concentrate more on shopping and less on watching my tail.

I would not be suprised to find statistics that show that shoppers who use surveillance detectors are involved in fewer arrests. If anyone out there has any information to prove or disprove this, let me know. In the mean time, I'll keep listening to the chirps from my little electronic co-shopper.

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