Difference between Spying and Surveillance

Sep 14, 2017


The world is advancing on the path of technology. As a result of this, we are gaining significant control over several situations. To a larger extent, holding back potentially dangerous events is becoming easier. Thanks to the network of smart security cameras and sensors all around us. These cameras work in sync with other devices as part of a robust surveillance system.

As new possibilities emerge on the technological scene, concerns about crossing the line between surveillance and spying are coming up. Are you are one of those who often see security surveillance as spying? Allow me to burst your bubble – well, both concepts have similarities, but they are actually different. Now, let’s look at surveillance and spying in details:


  • The concept of surveillance entails keeping continuous and close watch on an individual or group. It is a common dynamic security measure. Also, surveillance largely has legal authority and this is irrespective of the type of security cameras. Got it? Next…
  • Surveillance might involve consent. This depends on the area of concern and whether it is a public place, work place or a private space. It is good to know that surveillance can take place without a high level of technology. However, development of complex surveillance systems is known to facilitate surveillance. An example of such is a remote security guard system. Great! Isn’t it?
  • Now, modern surveillance systems combine a wide variety of functionalities. These might include video recording, position sensing, imaging, tracking, metal detection and reporting. Businesses, government agencies, and residential homes now make use of these systems to keep surveillance over their assets. A good example is an IP video surveillance system.

Let’s take a look at what spying is:


  • Spying, on the other hand, deploys clandestine means to extract secret information. It is often without due authorization. Remember James Bond’s “The Spy who loves me?”
  • Spying is a common practice of unscrupulous individuals and institutions. However, secret government agencies often take to spying for national interest reasons. For instance, spies may be deployed to uncover the strategies of terrorist organizations in order to nail them. In addition, exposure of most spying activities often results in negative legal and political consequences.

Spying Vs. Surveillance

In addition to what you already know, surveillance and spying both involve information gathering. Also, like security surveillance, spying could involve a combination of technology and intelligence. However, the main differences lie within the intents. If the intents aren’t to gain undue advantages, then spying is out of the question. Now, you might want to ask your neighbor why he keeps going about with that pair of binoculars! Also, the level of secrecy of both activities matters – this is why highly covert surveillance measures are taken as spying.

In addition, keeping surveillance is beyond the prevention of criminal activities. It could encompass sundry applications. Examples of such include the monitoring of the elements of weather to forestall natural disasters and monitoring the invasion of pests in agriculture. You can also mount video surveillance to unravel why your delivery man keeps arriving late. Cool right?

As we all know, the use of new technologies in security surveillance is becoming common by the day. Security equipment like IP video surveillance systems has taken the center stage. However, installing security cameras to enhance security raises privacy issues in some quarters. Understandably, this is driven by the likelihood of using such technologies illegally. An example is the use of aerial drones for security surveillance. This technology could as well be used for spying purposes without anyone suspecting. So, before installing security cameras, what are your intentions?