Will a Laser Pointer Damage a Security Camera?

The laser pointers typically used for presentations are unlikely to damage a security camera, at least not that easily. Laser pointers are rated under different classes based on their possible harmful effects on human eyes and health. 

While your typical presentation pointers are rated as Class 1 or 2, most laser pointers with visible beams are listed under Class 3R or 3B. Class 3B lasers may produce enough heat to potentially damage a security camera, especially after prolonged exposure.

According to MTS Intelligent Security Solutions, the three major parts of a security camera that can be affected by lasers are:

  • The lens
  • The sensor
  • The CCD/CMOS image array

Why do people want to blind security cameras?

One possible reason why a person would want to blind a security camera is for a prank. There will always be vandals who want to damage or destroy things and high-power lasers become an option when it comes to dealing with security cameras.

As mentioned, regular laser pointers may not be capable of actually damaging security cameras. But a vandal can still do damage to one.

Due to the fact that lasers are essentially beams of light that can produce heat, prolonged contact with sensitive materials – such as a camera's sensor – CAN cause it to be damaged. 

Here's our post on how a laser pointer works.

The right kind of lasers can do so, potentially causing dead pixels to appear in a camera's visual feed. If a vandal is so inclined, entire portions of a camera's sensor may be damaged in this way, rendering it effectively useless.

In fact, you can refer to the video below for an example of a camera sensor (in this case it is a digital camera's sensor) that has been severely damaged.

Besides that, another obvious reason why someone would want to blind security cameras is to avoid surveillance. For example, let's say a burglar intends to rob a jewelry shop. Most burglars would perform a “smash and grab” without disarming security systems, relying instead on disguising themselves. However, those who are able to deal with security systems (such as closed-circuit television or CCTV cameras) could make it harder for police and the authorities to track down. Burglars who disable the alarm system and successfully blind security cameras make it difficult for them to be identified.

To illustrate another example, laser pointers were used in several protest activities in Hong Kong in mid-2019. At the time, protesters utilized green laser pointers to point at surveillance cameras and show where the Hong Kong security personnel were located. This was done not only to cause trouble to security personnel, but it was also believed that such acts would disrupt the facial recognition capabilities of surveillance cameras.

Lastly, a person may want to prevent his or her neighbor's security cameras from being able to monitor their private property. However, in that case, the person may want to find a way to blind the camera without resorting to damaging it.

What’s a better method instead of blinding security cameras?

You can consider other methods besides the use of laser pointers in blinding security cameras. For example, LED lights are sufficient to blind security cameras and are less likely to permanently damage them. The advantage here is that you can get them in the form of LED lights attached to a helmet, which then frees up the use of your hand. Laser pointers don't have this option, so that could be something to consider.

For more basic cameras, a simple method is to cover the lens with something. Similarly, you can put something in place – like a fence – to block the view of the camera. This applies if your purpose is preventing a neighbor's security camera from being able to view your private property.

However, attempting to physically cover the lens may not be feasible at times. More advanced security cameras often come with some form of proximity alarm that can alert the camera's owner when approached.

You can try to check if a security camera is a wired or wireless one. This is usually simple enough since wired ones tend to have a standard Ethernet cable connected to it. If it's wireless, there's a rather high-tech way of hacking into it. However, it is probably illegal to hack into someone else’s camera, and it may not be an effective way of blinding it.

policemen

Check with a legal professional about the laws in your local area. In many countries and states, it may be illegal to point security cameras at “private” areas of another person’s house. These include places like your bedrooms and bathrooms, where you would reasonably expect to have privacy. However, places such as your driveway are not usually considered “private” areas, as they are in plain sight. If you think your neighbor’s use of a security camera pointed at your house is an intrusion of privacy, you could consider raising the issue with him/ her. If he/ she is still unwilling to point the camera away from your house, you should report the matter to the police.

How to prevent a camera from being damaged by lasers?

There are a few ways to prevent a camera from being damaged by laser pointers. For example, placing it in a high position ensures that it's harder to do so. While the laser pointer can still serve the purpose of obscuring the user, the camera's sensor will at least be able to avoid damage as it can only be damaged if the laser is pointed at it from a distance of about 16 feet (5 meters).

Security camera owners can also consider options like installing a lot more cameras in harder to target areas, or infrared filters. Besides that, you can also go for Pan-Tilt-Zoom cameras that often move constantly, rendering it near impossible to damage via prolonged laser exposure.

If your security camera is of a brand that supports notification software, set it up so that you get notified if your cameras are disabled or blinded. This way, you can contact the local authorities or dispatch security.

If you own a digital camera, make sure to take extra care when going to concerts or places with laser light shows. Look out for where the projectors are located and where they are pointing their laser beams. If you are setting up your camera in a stationary spot, observe the direction of the laser beams for a few minutes to ensure that they do not point straight into your camera.

Final comments

Security cameras aren't really that easy to damage. Vandals tend to have to get close enough to do so, in which case a security camera with a proximity sensor and notification system is more than enough to catch them in the act. If you use the prevention methods mentioned above, laser pointers should not be a problem for any security camera you own.

  • September 13, 2019
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