CAMERAS LET PARENTS OBSERVE PRESCHOOLERS VIA INTERNET.
Surveillance cameras in an Orange County preschool will allow parents to watch their youngsters over the Internet in what critics call voyeuristic technology run amok.
Cyber-surveillance, to some, is getting out of control.
``What's next? Husband cams in the neighborhood bars?'' asked Dan Lavin, a technology analyst with the San Jose-based Dataquest market research firm.
``With the proliferation of cameras everywhere, you're starting to see the indiscriminate distribution of images. It sounds like a cute idea, but what a waste of technology,'' Lavin said.
New York and Georgia day care centers are experimenting with classroom scenes on the World Wide Web, but the Cathy's Kids Club online program is believed to be a Southern California first.
The first online preschool system was launched last spring with a pilot program at The Children's Corner in Ridgefield, Conn.
``We felt it was a positive use of the Internet,'' said Nan Howkins, director of The Children's Corner. ``We as educators need to be accountable to parents.
``A center that's not proud of what it's doing won't have a program like this.''
Phil Agre, professor of communication and technology at the University of California, San Diego, agrees.
``You've already got parents giving their kids beepers and cell phones. Now, it's cameras and the Web,'' Agre said.
Cathy Sipia, owner of the Tustin preschool, wants to create a digital looking glass with cameras in all seven classrooms and on the playground. It should be up and running within eight weeks.
``It's very Orwellian. It sets a precedent for a generation of kids who could grow up thinking that surveillance is normal,'' said David Banisar, an attorney with the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington.
Parents access the Web site with a password and click from camera to camera to view still photographs that are updated every few seconds.
The project was developed by Sipia's husband, computer specialist Michael Sipia, and her son, Chris Klein, owner of a Web development firm.
``We are going to do everything we can to keep strangers out,'' Klein said. ``Encryption, regularly rotating passwords, anything and everything to keep the kids safe.
``This is supposed to make the parents feel better about leaving their children - not worse.''
Broadcasting systems on the Internet began emerging four years ago when users hooked portable digital cameras to their computers and displayed live pictures of work and home environments.
Thousands of people now use camera-computer setups for such things as a live sex show from Amsterdam to a percolating coffee pot in England.
``Why not use the Internet in a smart way? We can give parents peace of mind when they're at their high-stress jobs,'' Cathy Sipia said.
The response from parents has been positive.
``My immediate reaction was, `Can you do that?' '' said mother Marcia Zigrang. Two of her children have attended Cathy's Kids Club and a third will start next year.
``It's hard to go to work and not be a part of my children's day. I only wish I could have an option like this with every school,'' she said.