The use of video surveillance systems is set to quadruple over the coming few years, according to a new study from ABI Research.

Company vice president and research director Stan Schatt said that revenue generated from surveillance software would increase to more than US$900 million in 2013, up from current revenues of $245 million.

Schatt said there were several big drivers for this increase, including increased spending on security systems by the government, on theft prevention systems by retail outlets and on surveillance by market researchers. Additionally, he said that the advent of Wi-Fi would make it possible to place wireless cameras just about anywhere while still sending footage back to a central location.

Looking at the broader picture, Schatt said that technological advances were also increasing the scope and the potential uses of video surveillance. He added that one of the more disturbing uses was the ability of store marketing departments to monitor the eyeball movements of customers to figure out what products or displays draw their attention.

"When stores have the ability to observe you as you walk through a store, what I can imagine is that more and more stores will try to basically have a pretty in-depth knowledge of their customers," he said. "So let's say for instance the store issues you a discount card that also has a radio frequency ID that identifies who you are. And then let's say they observe you looking at, but not actually purchasing, movies in the adult video section. Well, the next thing you know you're getting all these promotional materials for racy movies you're not even interested in."

Schatt also noted that more and more banks were looking into installing cameras with face recognition ability to help prevent robberies before they even occur. Thus, when a known bank robber enters a bank, the camera could recognise his face and send out an alert. Casinos were already deploying this sort of face recognition software to monitor their employees, Schatt said, and were using it to detect when certain employees enter into unauthorised areas and alerting the security team.

Schatt believes that as more surveillance equipment becomes increasingly digitised and software-reliant, it will increasingly move into the purview of IT departments. And because the surveillance software vastly broadens the extent to which companies and governments can watch people, it will inevitably create privacy concerns that will have to be addressed.

"Down the road our behaviour is going to be observed much more frequently, and that has all kind of implications," he said. "I mean, the fact that they're actually looking at your eyeball movements shows we've reached a whole new realm of surveillance capabilities."