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Surveillance society in US

New York, April 5 (Reuters): Whether they're driving through a tunnel or taking a cigarette break, Americans are finding even their most mundane movements captured on video.

Since the September 11, 2001, attacks, corporations and government entities have been on the alert for possible security threats, including among previously ignored civilians.

And makers of surveillance equipment are cashing in on the growing budgets of the US department of homeland security and its local counterparts.

'We've become a video camera society, and the market has absolutely been turned upside down,' said global security analyst Scott Greiper of C.E. Unterberg Towbin. 'You don't notice them right away, but you look up and they're there.'

The surveillance camera market has swelled to between $5 billion and $6 billion from about $2 billion before September 11 ' and will grow at 25 per cent a year, Greiper said.

While privacy advocates have expressed concern and question the cameras' effectiveness in deterring crime and terrorism, they also acknowledge that, since the September 11 attacks, Americans have become increasingly tolerant of having their movements recorded.

New technology allows cameras at sensitive federal buildings, major ports and transit hubs to differentiate between people and the objects they carry. If someone leaves a briefcase in an elevator at the Pentagon, for example, the camera will look back to find who left it and send the person's picture to a guard's hand-held security device.

The homeland security budget is growing. President George W. Bush is requesting $34.2 billion for fiscal 2006, up from $31.9 billion this year and $29.9 billion in 2004.

'Current anti-terrorist fears, combined with the surge in road rage, the perception of an increase in crime, and several high-profile school shootings, are causing many to call for increased video surveillance ... in all public spaces,' the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based public interest research group, said on its website.

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