Surveillance cameras are currently installed in many areas on campus. The primary focus areas of surveillance appear to be parking lots and the Drillfield. Cameras have also been observed in public spaces like the Library Plaza, and Dietrick Hall. Interestingly, cameras have also been installed on Theatre 101 downtown, pointing east on College Avenue and south down Draper Road, even though these are public streets located off campus. By far, the most surveilled place students typically encounter is the Perry Street parking garage, containing cameras in every corner and entrance.
On March 14, 2011, Sherwood G. Wilson, the Vice President for Administrative Services, approved Policy 5617: Safety and Security Camera Acceptable Use Policy. This policy states that the Virginia Tech Police Department has the authority to select, coordinate, operate, manage, and monitor all campus surveillance systems pursuant to this policy. It also sets up a Surveillance Oversight Committee responsible for approving or denying all proposals for security camera equipment recommended by the Chief of Police. This committee consists of six administrative staff members, but students and faculty are not directly represented.
Information from the cameras is used “for safety and security purposes and for law and policy enforcement.” This includes student judicial functions.
Cameras are prohibited to be installed in student dormitory rooms in the residence halls, bathrooms, locker rooms, offices, and classrooms not used as a lab. Dummy cameras are also prohibited, and the policy states that all camera installations should be visible unless they are being used for criminal investigations. However, section 2.3.4 of the same policy permits use of hidden cameras for non-criminal investigations as authorized by the Chief of Police, so hidden cameras are effectively permitted.
The policy currently states that surveillance records will be stored in a “secure university centralized location” for 15 days, and then will be promptly erased or written over unless the video is otherwise flagged for retention.
Contract with SDI Presence
Just over a month after approval of Policy 5617, on April 18, Orion Systems Group, based in Fairfax, VA entered into a three year contract to install a networked video security system on campus. This contract has been extended until April 17, 2017 with two remaining one-year renewal options.
Since signing the contract, Orion Systems Group changed their name to X7 Systems Integration, and in 2013 were acquired by SDI Solutions, LLC. In 2016, SDI Solutions, LLC filed for bankruptcy protection and became SDI Presence LLC.
SDI Presence is also responsible for deployment and maintenance of the District of Columbia’s citywide Electronic Security System.
The cameras use dedicated subnets and generally have ACLs configured to prevent access from most locations. Video is available as an h.264 stream accessible over IPv4 by the backend server.
The backend server runs Genetec’s Omnicast IP video surveillance software. It can display the cameras in a mosaic display as well as handle recording.
Surveillance footage is stored on an EMC product, likely from EMC’s Video Surveillance Storage line. According to the original contract, phase 1 includes 18 TB of storage, phase 2 includes 43 TB of storage, and phase 3 includes 389 TB of storage.
Best Practice Recommendations
Even though not all areas of campus are under surveillance, remember that surveillance can place you in certain areas at certain times.
If possible, avoid traveling through areas with cameras. You should make note of the location of camera installations and share these with others.
An Invisible Face Mask constructed from high intensity infrared LEDs and a hat may be useful, but it is possible that in some locations, infrared light might be filtered; your mileage may vary.
Blend in; avoid wearing distinctive clothing or carrying distinctive items, and travel during busy periods like class change.
Avoid driving and parking on campus, as your license plate uniquely identifies you and most streets and parking lots are surveilled.