Surveillance equipment is a broad term encompassing a wide range of equipment used to observe what people are doing, either overtly or covertly. Although many people think of surveillance equipment as being in the realm of spies and espionage, the most common surveillance equipment seen today is the simple closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera. These cameras are seen in banks, football stadiums, many stores, or around the streets of countries such as the United Kingdom. Although the term may be used to describe any surveillance device, today, it is most often used to describe electronic devices, as opposed to analog devices such as binoculars or fingerprinting equipment.
Surveillance cameras are the simplest form of equipment used, and because of their relative affordability, and ease of installation, they are widely used. For example, in the United Kingdom there are more than four million CCTV cameras throughout the country. In China, surveillance cameras are used with increasing frequency, and are used in conjunction with advanced facial-recognition software, and tracking systems, with the stated goal of ultimately creating a registry of every citizen. In the United States, due to privacy concerns, the use of CCTV cameras for surveillance is more limited, but many municipal governments install them under the auspices of traffic monitoring, and later open them to law enforcement.
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A more advanced form of surveillance equipment is biometric equipment. This is equipment that looks at specific characteristics of a person to identify them. For example, fingerprint scanners are an example of a biometric system, as are retinal scanners. More advanced scanners may analyze the gait of a person as they are walking to identify them, or may track their voice as they speak in order to identify them. Although some of these systems, such as fingerprint scanners, may be overt, others, such as gait analyzers, may be covert.
Aerial surveillance equipment is another advanced form of surveillance that has seen a huge boom in the last few years, as miniturization has become more advanced and prices have dropped. Small aerial drones are able to use lasers, infrared scanners, and cameras to track subjects on the ground. For example, the MQ-9 Reaper drone is used by the Department of Homeland Security in the United States, and is able to identify objects slightly larger than a brick from more than 60,000 feet (18,250m) in the air.
With the increasing importance of the Internet, data mining, snooping, and analysis has become an important part of surveillance. Equipment exists that allows for data to be captured at various points on the information path. For example, small devices may be connected to a computer via a USB port that capture every keystroke, and can either send it to a remote computer, or store it for later retrieval. Devices may also be added to a network cable to capture packets are they are sent and received, no matter how secure the network itself may be.
Global positioning devices are another form of surveillance equipment that is seeing increased use as they become smaller and smaller. A GPS device can be covertly attached to a vehicle, package, or person, to track them as they move. RFID tags may also be used in a similar manner, if there are covert RFID readers set up throughout an area like a city which can track the movement of the tag.
Although not always grouped with surveillance equipment, many older analog technologies do technically fall into this category. Binoculars and telescopes, for example, are a low-tech form of equipment, which can be used to view people from long distances, and which are widely available to the general public. Tripwires, pressure plates, and other mechanical devices may also be used to trigger silent alarms to alert someone when an intruder has entered an area.