Playing NSA at the Job Site. Just Less Sneakily

all_seeing_eyeThe U.S. National Security Agency (“NSA”) been getting a lot of bad press lately. From backdoor hacking into Google and Yahoo to the mass data collection program known as PRISM to spying on gaming platforms such as Second Life and World of Warcraft, it hasn’t been much fun going from scrutinizer to scrutinized.

I was thinking about the NSA and its public relations problems as I was reading an article from Engineering New-Record (“”), which in turn made me think about the movie Sneakers, which in turn made me think about how sad it is that River Phoenix died. See how my mind works?

The article was about the increasing use of live streaming cameras on construction projects. Certainly, in this day of age, when you can order and pay for a latte on your smartphone, live streaming cameras are not particularly exciting in a “wow, we can do that now!” sense. But what is interesting, is the increasing use of this technology on job sites and their potential uses.

This past Fall, Ted Hall of Hatch Mott MacDonald, Program Manager for the Bay Area Toll Authority, gave a presentation at our firm’s yearly Infrastructure Forum on the newly opened San Francisco-Oakland Span of the Bay Bridge. One of the things he mentioned was the use of job site cameras on the project.

He said that the cameras were originally intended to be used as a public relations tool by allowing the public to view the construction of the project in realtime, but that the cameras turned out to have other more practical, albeit unintended, benefits. One example he gave was the use of the cameras to help resolve a scheduling and interference claim on the project.

After reading the article, I began to realize that there could me many potential uses for a job cam. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Maybe a job cam could also have a thousand uses (ok, maybe less), but, more importantly, could potentially save tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in dispute avoidance and resolution costs.

A few of the uses I can see for a job site camera are:

  • Jobsite security
  • Worker safety
  • Project staffing
  • Project efficiency
  • Scheduling
  • Interference claims
  • Critical-path claims
  • Delay claims
  • Defect claims

And this, of course, can mean smoother running projects, more money in your pockets, and happier customers. Just don’t stick them in the porta potties.

Oh, and here’s a clip from Sneakers when they call the NSA:

5 Responses to “Playing NSA at the Job Site. Just Less Sneakily”

  1. Rich S

    Well its not a bad idea, because constantly you see crime shows that ask you to phone in if you recognize this person so quality cameras on sites would be good

  2. Marty Wilson


    The idea of using cameras on construction sites isn’t new by any means, but given their small size today they are much less obvious.

    Waaaay back in my college years our construction management class obtained permission to set up stop action video (using plain old fashioned film) cameras on job sites to record and then analyze repetitive tasks. On one job we filmed the raising of concrete tilt up wall panels on a building under construction in Palo Alto. The playback revealed several redundant, inefficient and time consuming procedures that were repeated on every panel during the ’tilt up’ process. And time really is money when you have a crew of 15+ executing the raise, plus a big, expensive crane. The tilt up contractor was amused – but subsequently interested – in what a bunch of college kids had to say about a construction process we had no experience doing ourselves.

    Around the same time I also recall that during the construction of BART through San Francisco, some contractors utilized similar stop action cameras to film concrete form placement and stripping with the goal of improving those production rates. However one side effect was the documentation of workers who “weren’t quite as dedicated to acceptable production rates” as their employer expected. The subsequent conversations around that collateral documentation escalated to the involvement of union officials, who discouraged the practice.

    • Garret Murai

      Thanks Marty. As they say, everything old is new again – which, as I get older, I seem to notice more and more of – Listening to your iPod on the BART? We used to do that in the 80s! Except we used Walkmen. Cheers!

  3. Roger Hughes

    Do you consider the loss of freedom and invasion of privacy implications of so many cameras monitoring your every move. I know that privacy is not guaranteed legally in public places but socially there are certain expectations. If someone were to follow you around daily monitoring your every move, would it get to you? Very interesting blog, kept it up.


    • Garret Murai

      Thanks Roger. Legally I think you would be on firm footing using live streaming cameras on a project, whether on a public or private works project, so long as the contract between the owner and general contractor permits it. As you point out, in general there is no right to privacy in public places, and as to general contractors, subcontractors, material suppliers, and laborers who don’t own the property under construction, I don’t believe they would have any right to privacy at such places. In fact, while I believe that only owners would have any privacy rights (hence, my suggestion that it be addressed in the owner-general contractor agreement), I think that even owners have a diminished right to privacy where the work being performed is open and visible to the public.

      I agree though, that whether on firm legal footing or not, it is probably best to let everyone know that cameras are being utilized on a project. Not only would it help to promote open dialogue among those involved on the project, but by widely disclosing that cameras are being used on the project, it may in fact help to prevent the very problems that the cameras are intended to catch.


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