Video surveillance cameras are more widely used and popular in Britain than in the United States. The origins of this popularity can be traced back to a single incident where a video camera (in Brtain commonly called CCTV for Closed Circuit Television) recorded 2 10 year old boys leading 2 year old Jamie Bulger away to kill him. A CCTV recording at a shopping center led to the eventual identification and arrest of the suspects. Even since then the British public has supported and pressed for ever wider installation of video surveillance cameras.
With some observers predicting the country will have more surveillance cameras than people within a decade, civil liberty groups foresee a bleak, Orwellian future, where privacy is a thing of the past.
The British, already more surveilled by video cameras than the population of any other country, may soon be watched by tens of millions of cameras.
Despite the pitfalls of blanket surveillance, though, industry analysts predict that the number of CCTV cameras in Britain will soar to 25 million by 2007.
Think about that 25 million number for video cameras used for surveillance. Is that realistic? The total population of the UK is over 60 million people. Where will all the cameras be installed that would allow the numbers to add up to 60 million? Some will be installed in buses, trains, taxi cabs, police cars, bus stations, train stations, airports, stores, banks, office buildings, and other commercial and public locations. Many such vehicles and facilities already have video cameras today in both the United States and Great Britain. A major airport or a large building could easily get hundreds or perhaps even thousands of cameras with cameras located in staircases, hallways, elevators, lobbies, garages and aimed outside at approaches. Also, street lampposts are another place where cameras can be installed. Given that the costs are dropping for cameras, recording media, and network bandwidth the 25 million number seems plausible in the longer run. Though it is hard to see how tens of millions will be added in just a few years.
While governments and commercial establishments are embracing video cameras so are private citizens. Home CCTV for personal safety and convenience is also being embraced as costs fall and security concerns mount. In Britain at current exchange rates the cameras range anywhere from approximately $30 to $150 US dollars with complete home starter kits ranging around the $500 or so dollars.
One big limitation on the utility of video suveillance is that there are too many cameras providing video feeds and it is too expensive to pay watchers to simultaneously watch tens of millions of them. Most cameras are more useful for after-the-fact viewing to identify who committed a crime only after it has been committed. Image processing that automated identification of crimes in process would allow costs to fall much further and lead to even more widespread of video surveillance.
Another capability would increase the demand for video cameras: automated computer recognition of faces. A recent report from State University of New York at Stony Brook suggests a breakthrough on computer automated facial recognition by recognizing changes in the positions of facial muscles when a person makes different facial expressions.
Guan takes two snaps of a person in quick succession, asking subjects to smile for the camera. He then uses a computer to analyse how the skin around the subject's mouth moves between the two images. The software does this by tracking changes in the position of tiny wrinkles in the skin, each just a fraction of a millimetre wide.
As equipment costs drop and computer technologies for doing automated recognition of person and activities advance the demand for automated video surveillance will grow and we will live with increasing amounts of cameras watching what we do.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2004 April 12 12:05 PM Surveillance Cameras|