Thursday, March 08, 2012


Hawaii State Capitol security—unclear on the concept

by Larry Geller

If your front door lock was broken, would you let the information out, or try to keep it a secret until the locksmith arrived?

If a security system in the Hawaii State Capitol was hardly working, should they grant an interview to a newspaper reporter about it?

You’d think the same common sense would apply in both cases. If it’s broke, don’t advertise it.

Yet this morning’s Star-Advertiser featured a story headlined “Capitol surveillance system dysfunctional” that details how the camera system is hardly working. Evildoers can get all the intel they need just by buying a 75-cent copy of the paper. A snip:

Sheriff's deputies are also supposed to see images from 60 of the cameras on one of four plasma monitors, [Keith] Kamita [deputy director for law enforcement for the state Department of Public Safety] said. However, they can now view images from only 15 cameras at once, he said.

"They're having to jump to this 15 and this 15," Kamita said. "… As things have degraded and gotten older, we've done numerous fixes on the system. But at this point, things are starting to age."

The system was installed in 2006 by Halawa-based Hawaiya Technologies Inc. at a cost of $169,000, said Mun-Won Chang, one of the company's co-owners.

Hawaiya Technologies has proposed "half a dozen" maintenance contracts, which have never been approved, and has been troubleshooting the system for free, Chang said.

[Star-Advertiser, Capitol surveillance system dysfunctional, 3/8/2012]

Of course, this is just one more manifestation of a government culture that dislikes funding maintenance, whether it’s classroom windows, municipal housing, our streets, or now the security system in the State Capitol.

It seems that the problem came to public notice (according to the article) when Senator Will Espero popped into the Sherriff’s office. But it should have stopped there. Now the world  knows that the security system isn’t working.

Video surveillance of a large number of cameras is problematic at best. The chances that any of the Capitol’s 64 cameras are being watched by a human being at any given time is pretty close to zero. This is a flaw common to all similar systems. At best, if the recorders work, they provide a visual record of something that has already occurred. Except that the State Capitol cameras may be too old and fuzzy to do even that, as the article suggests. They don’t get HD TV on the cameras they have.

There are a couple of philosophies with regard to video surveillance stations. Some installations are right there in public view, so wannabe evildoers can see that their actions would be recorded. Others, like the State Capitol system, are hidden behind closed doors and don’t have a deterrent effect. Besides, any akamai evildoer knows that no one is watching the cameras. Even with motion detectors, the likelihood that someone is actually watching the image is vanishingly small. Besides, the guard can’t tell what’s in a knapsack or briefcase and no one goes to check.

Access to our State Capitol is free and open. There are no metal detectors, and usually no guard at the watch station in the parking lot.

I know, I know, evildoers are probably reading this article right now. Be warned, evildoers, I’m not posting all I know. And thanks to the S-A paywall, it’ll cost you 75-cents to read the rest of the video surveillance story.


Security through obscurity is ineffective, especially when it comes to maintenance.

How likely is it that the system would be repaired if everyone who knew it was broken kept quiet? The squeaky wheel gets the grease. The publicly squeaky wheel gets the grease sooner.

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