2007 July 12 Thursday
Manhattan To Get Massive Camera Surveillance System

What, me worry? Just think of Manhattan as a massive reality TV show.

New York - The speed with which London's ubiquitous surveillance cameras helped identify would-be bombers has prompted calls for extensive closed-circuit television networks in the US.

In the first such public effort in the US, New York is planning to begin the installation of a similar, permanent system for lower Manhattan by year's end.

In the struggle against terrorism at home, its backers say CCTV is both a forensic tool and a deterrent to all but the most dedicated suicide bombers. Sophisticated imaging technology allows cameras to alert police to unattended packages, zoom in on objects hundreds of feet away, identify license plates, and "mine" archived footage for specific data.

Opponents contend that this very technology is overly intrusive and open to abuse, raising serious constitutional questions. They also note that surveillance cameras not only are helpless against suicide bombings, but also that perpetrators may use video records to try to glorify their acts.

Science fiction writer David Brin argued in his book The Transparent Society that we do not have the option of protecting privacy. We only have a choice over who gets to watch the cameras. Do only employees of government agencies get to watch the video feeds? Or do all people get to watch each other through neighborhood surveillance cameras?

Extremely miniaturized cameras will some day let people plant bugs in offices, cars, houses, and on clothing. People will be able to find out what others say and do when they think no one else is around to observe them. As Mick Jagger put it "These days its all secrecy, no privacy".

By Randall Parker    2007 July 12 11:13 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2006 January 15 Sunday
Austrian Hackers Break Into Surveillance Camera Video Feeds

Austrian hackers broke into police video feeds in Vienna Austria.

A group called Quintessenz used an off-the-shelf satellite receiver to intercept the video signal transmitted by a surveillance camera overlooking a busy square in the capital Vienna. The feed had been crudely scrambled by modifying the analogue video signal but the activists were able to unscramble it using commercial video processing software.

This enabled them to view everything recorded by the camera, and revealed both its capabilities and shortcomings. "The funny thing was, the camera wasn't able to see right below itself," says Christian Moch, a spokesman for Quintessenz, "so people could carry out drug deals underneath it without being seen".

Science fiction writer David Brin has examined the gradual death of privacy due to technological advances in his book The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? and in articles he has on his web site. Brin makes the point that we face two choices: A) Let only government officials watch the camera feeds (and other surveillance feeds) or B) Let everyone watch the camera feeds. These hackers in Austria basically implemented plan B on a small scale.

Suppose everyone could watch all public video cameras over the internet. On the one hand, criminals and even terrorists would be able to figure out shortcomings in the surveillance systems. But on the other hand, a lot more members of the public would be able to watch for criminals in their spare time and many more cameras would have humans watching their feeds in real time. Police can't afford to watch every camera that they have access to. As cameras get cheaper and more ubiquitous the ratio of cameras to police employees watching them will rise higher and higher.

General public access to surveillance cameras would also lead to more rapid reports of camera failures and allow the public to knowledgeably criticize choices for camera positions and choices in camera brands and quality of signals.

So would you prefer only small numbers of people to have the authority to watch surveillance cameras? Or would you prefer a much larger number of people to have access to public camera video feeds?

Update: One other point: Lots of people are going to surveil each other regardless of whether governments provide access to their video cameras. Already spouses and boyfriends and girlfriends put GPS tracking devices on cars to see where their significant other goes to. Does she stop at some apartment complex when she claims she's at a business meeting? Or does he cruise a red light district? You can bet that as nanosensors become more powerful people will be putting audio recorders in clothes buttons and sending their untrusted loved one off on their day with sensors. Then they'll find out whether some hanky panky is going on at the office. Also, business competitors will find ways to spy on each other using coming nanotech sensors.

The point I'm making is that the surveillance society is not just something governments will create. Whether or not governments help us watch each other we will find ways to listen to, watch, and otherwise sense what people around us are doing. Parents will use tiny sensors to surreptitiously find out of their kids are doing drugs or having sex. Employers will use increasingly sophisticated sensors to watch employees. Employees will use sensors to find out what their bosses say behind closed doors. Many sensing technologies will be hard to detect and even if detected will be hard to connect with whoever is using them. Privacy is going to be increasingly hard to protect.

By Randall Parker    2006 January 15 10:12 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2004 September 21 Tuesday
Chicago To Deploy Automated Video Monitoring Software

The city of Chicago is going to take the video feeds from 2000 existing cameras and 250 new cameras and send the streaming video through image processing software that will be able to recognize a large assortment of potential security and crime threats as well as identify people who need help for a variety of reasons. (same article here)

Sophisticated new computer programs will immediately alert the police whenever anyone viewed by any of the cameras placed at buildings and other structures considered terrorist targets wanders aimlessly in circles, lingers outside a public building, pulls a car onto the shoulder of a highway, or leaves a package and walks away from it. Images of those people will be highlighted in color at the city's central monitoring station, allowing dispatchers to send police officers to the scene immediately.

Of course this report provides no indication of how well this software works in each of the scenarios cited above. How many false positives and false negatives will it generate in each case? Anyone reading this have any first hand knowledge of how well this stuff works in practice? It doesn't have to be perfect to be useful. Even with a substantial error rate the software is likely to increase the productivity of the people who are employed watching video feeds from cameras located around the city of Chicago.

Any suspicious video stream will be brought to the attention of human decision makers for appropriate action. (same article here)

If the software picked up suspicious behavior, a staff member in the city's Office of Emergency Management would be alerted and could then notify police, medical personnel or a tow truck - whatever the situation called for.

With time the software will no doubt get better while cameras, computers, and fiber optic networks get cheaper. The function of watching the video feeds which is now done by humans and is probably the most expensive part of any monitoring system (anyone know for sure?). Therefore, as the threat and problem recognition software becomes more sophisticated that will drive down costs and enable much wider spread use of monitoring cameras. Now, you may be biterly opposed to the spread of such cameras. But my guess is that as automation lowers costs their use will grow by leaps and bounds. So far there just has not been much significant public opposition.

The project is being funded through federal homeland security money.

Officials estimate the first phase of the project will be completed by spring 2006.The $5.1 million project will be funded through a federal homeland security grant and will be the city's first initiative to integrate intelligent video surveillance under one roof.

My prediction: Use of video cameras for monitoring public places will grow by orders of magnitude.

By Randall Parker    2004 September 21 12:30 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2004 July 29 Thursday
Video Cameras Spreading In Nursing Homes To Prevent Abuse

Called "granny-cams", the use of video cameras placed in the rooms of elderly nursing home residences is being funded in many cases by families so that families can verify that their elderly are not being abused or neglected by nursing home workers.

About a dozen state legislatures have granny-cam legislation under consideration. Earlier this year, New Mexico joined Texas in allowing nursing home residents or their representatives to install monitoring cameras in their rooms.

Under the laws, a resident must let nursing-home operators know ahead of time of the placement of the camera. If the operator is not notified or if the equipment is not open and obvious in the room, the camera is considered covert surveillance and illegal.

Use of such cameras is a positive step in reducing the potential for elderly abuse, Cottle, an editor at the journal, concluded. In particular, Web cameras hold the greatest potential for restoring public confidence in nursing homes by giving family members access to "real time" or to recently stored footage.

Commercial outlets now sell Web-camera systems to the elderly at prices from $629 to $1,584, depending on the specifications of each camera, plus a $20 monthly fee to access the server and $10 a month for a data-only line to upload images.

"Certainly some families have the financial means to provide this quality of technological protection, however the majority of Americans do not," Cottle wrote. To be effective and properly regulated, granny-cam technology should therefore be mandated for all nursing facilities.

In some cases family members are able to monitor their parents and grandparents by watching camera video streams remotely over the internet.

Cameras also could monitor many of the basics of resident care, such as drug administration and diaper changing. By linking the camera feed to the Internet, nursing homes could handle routine assignments more efficiently.

But because of understandable concerns over privacy, Cottle advocates placing the surveillance systems in the hands of independent companies, which would then monitor the equipment and be responsible for making the data available online.

"In this way, families can check on their loved ones and nursing homes can check on their residents, and everyone will sleep a little better at night knowing that the independent source is regulating and reviewing the tapes should any problems arise," Cottle wrote.

Many people are willing to give up privacy in exchange for security. Effectively the cameras provide a way for more trusted people to monitor the actions of less trusted people. The monitoring capability provided by electronic technology allows the role of trusted agent to be separated from the role of service provider. The cameras are monitored either by family members or by third party organizations. These organizations effectively serve to audit and monitor performance of nursing homes on behalf of family members or even on behalf of the elderly themselves.

Another way to think about video cameras used in security is that they allow a trusted agent to leverage their trust to enforce and monitor more transactions and facilities. This ability to separate out the role of trusted agent from the roles of providing various other services is a big underappreciated long term trend that is changing how societies are organized. It is going to affect the structure of governments in part by allowing outsourcing of various components of governance. For example, one can imagine how this could lead to situations where particularly corrupt governments agree to remote monitoring of a large range of transactions and faciltiies in exchange for international aid. A country like Finland with an incredibly low level of corruption could literally provide remote trust services for institutions in countries with high levels of corruption such as Moldova or Paraguay.

By Randall Parker    2004 July 29 02:50 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2004 May 02 Sunday
Transparent Society Coming To Manapalan Florida

Manapalan Florida, population 321, is going to install street cameras to photograph the vehicles and automatically check the identity of everyone who passes through.

New technology will soon track drivers who pass by the waterfront mansions of this ritzy oceanside town, checking their backgrounds to find wanted criminals and following up on those who are nearby when a crime occurs.

The article isn't explicit on this point but it sounds like the digitized images of each vehicle will be fed into optical character recognition software that will automatically extract license plate numbers. Then the license plate numbers will be automatically compared against both stolen car lists and lists of car owners who have outstanding warrants for their arrest.

It is a bit of a stretch to call the government of a town of only 321 people by the term "Big Brother".

"Big Brother is watching you," said Town Commissioner Peter Blum last week after commissioners approved spending up to $60,000 on the system.

"Or, Little Brother, in this case," said Commissioner Tom Gerrard, a retired telecommunications executive who is helping guide the town's foray into high-tech crime solving.

Think about the next step beyond stationary cameras and automatic character recognition. TV shows like COPS routinely broadcast video from cameras mounted in police cars during chases or during interactions of officers with occupants of cars pulled over on the side of the road. One next logical step would be to combine those cameras automated optical character recognition software mounted on police cars. But whether or not it is possible today it certainly will be in the future. A police car could have software that automatically notifies police officers when either a stolen vehicle or a vehicle of a wanted suspect was behind or in front or just passed by the squad car.

This idea could be extended much further to empower private citizens. Anyone willing to pay for the costs of a cellular data network connection to their car (and the costs of such networks can be expected to drop by orders of magnitude in coming years even while their speeds increase) could feed a stream of license place numbers and the car's current GPS-derived location to local police. Then a police computer could also do checks for stolen cars and wanted suspects.

Cameras could also provide feeds into facial recognition software to identify pedestrians. Existing facial recognition systems tested at airports are probably accurate enough to be useful in conditions where a few percent rate of false positives is tolerable but the error rate still limits its use in many potential applications. Recent work done a SUNY Stony Brook may provide one of the breakthroughs needed for the creation of much more accurate facial recognition software.

Science fiction writer David Brin described the future of ubiquitous surveillance and what it means for free societies in his book The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?. You can also find out more about his views on this subject at this page on his web site.

By Randall Parker    2004 May 02 05:00 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2004 April 12 Monday
Britain In 10 Years: More Video Surveillance Cameras Than People?

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.

By Randall Parker    2004 April 12 12:05 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2004 April 07 Wednesday
Chicago Police Expand Camera Surveillance, Add Gunshot Detectors

Chicago police are more than doubling the number of video cameras watching city streets with the total going from 30 to 50. At the same time the police are adding gunshot detectors to the cameras for pinpointing the locations of guns that fire.

Saying they are improving something that works, Mayor Richard M. Daley and Chicago police officials Tuesday announced expansion of Operation Disruption, in which camera units are placed in areas to reduce violent crime and drug activity.

Fifty camera units to be equipped with gunshot-detection technology will be added to the 30 units installed in areas prone to gang violence and narcotics sales, Daley said at a news conference at police headquarters, 3510 S. Michigan Ave.

The gunshot detectors will be accurate within 20 feet.

Existing pods will be retrofitted with the same technology as the new ones, and will able to pinpoint gunshots within 20 feet and transmit the data via a microwave network to two police surveillance centers, officials said.

Expect many more types of detectors to be developed and deployed for public safety and law enforcement functions. How much longer will it be before there are detectors that can pinpoint a scream, a cry for help, or the sound of cars colliding? It is possible to conceive of image processing algorithms that can detect a person collapsing on the ground or a person being chased by another person.

Back in Chicago people in neighborhoods with surveillance video cameras are happy about the perceived increase in safety that the cameras provide.

Nellie Joyce Carter lives in the 800-block of North Harding, which has had a camera for seven months. She says the neighborhood’s safer since the very visible deterrent was put into place. She parents were afraid to let their children play outside before. Now she says the camera keeps watch over the kids and a local park.

The Chicago cameras and gunshot detectors are paid for by seized drug money.

Like the initial $750,000 camera experiment, the $2.8 million expansion and upgrade is being paid for with drug forfeiture money. Drug dealers are literally paying for police to breathe down their necks.

If there were enough dirty money to go around, Mayor Daley said he would love to see cameras installed on every street corner in Chicago.

Coincidentally the US Army and Marines happen to be deploying the "Boomerang" gunshot location detector system to Iraq.

Sensors atop an aluminum pole on the back of a Humvee pick up supersonic shock waves to give an approximate location of gunfire, and sound waves measured from the muzzle blast narrow it some more.

A cigarette box-sized display on the dashboard or windshield then shows the findings. "Incoming, 5 o'clock," says a speaker inside the box.

This military system is not an expensive system. BBN Technologies is making these detectors for $10,000 a piece and the price is expected to drop to $3,000. Electronic detection and surveillance systems will continue to decline in price while becoming more sophisticated and precise. Therefore sensors will become ever more ubiquitous and will be used to detect an increasing number of types of events and activities.

By Randall Parker    2004 April 07 11:57 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2004 February 11 Wednesday
British Most Highly Monitored By Video Cameras

Security video cameras, known as Closed Circuit TV or CCTV in Britain, are so popular among the British that the British are the most monitored by video cameras of any people on Earth.

The technology has become popular and widespread, with the result that Britons are by far the most watched people on earth, with one camera for every 14 people, according to recent estimates.

But questions remain as to their effectiveness.

A government review 18 months ago found that security cameras were effective in tackling vehicle crime but had limited effect on other crimes. Improved streetlighting recorded better results.

...

"I have talked to offenders about this," says Gill. "They say they are not concerned by security cameras, unless they were actually caught by one

My take: even if criminals are not deterred by the presence of cameras if the cameras are of suffciently high quality to enable identification of perpetrators of crimes then the cameras ought to increase conviction rates. What would be interesting would be to find data on what percentage of charges brought against suspected criminals use video evidence. Have video cameras increased clearance rates (i.e. the rate at which police can identity and charge a suspect) on various types of crimes? Also, is the rate of conviction higher in those cases which include CCTV evidence? Also, what percentage of all types of crimes in public places are caught by CCTV in areas where it is heavily deployed? Even when a crime isn't caught by a video camera there can be cameras pointing to areas nearby that could record images of those entering and leaving an area around the time a crime takes place. So how often does that happen?

The Midlothian and Borders Police claim CCTV crimes are solved at high rates.

Dalkeith and Penicuik are both reaping the benefits of town centre closed circuit television systems. With over 50 incidents recorded on camera this year and a 100% conviction rate in the courts, the cameras are undoubtedly helping deter anti-social behaviour on our streets.

But is the 100% for all 50 cases or for a smaller subset of cases for which charges were brought?

From some UK Home Offices studies in lighting and CCTV for crime reduction and prevention:

The major findings from the reviews are:

- Street lighting and CCTV work in cutting crime particularly when used within a package of other crime reduction measures.
- Improved street lighting reduced crime by 20%.
- CCTV was especially effective in reducing vehicle crime in car parks, leading to a 41% reduction.

The UK government Home Office report on street lighting and crime prevention is a downloadable PDF. Also, the matching report on CCTV and crime prevention is available as a downloadable PDF as well. The report claims that CCTV works very well to reduce crime in car parks (in American English "parking lots").

Overall, the best current evidence suggests that CCTV reduces crime to a small degree. CCTV is most effective in reducing vehicle crime in car parks, but it had little or no effect on crime in public transport and city centre settings.

...

Both published and unpublished reports were considered in the searches, and the searches were international in scope and were not limited to the English language.

The search strategies resulted in 22 CCTV evaluations meeting the criteria for inclusion. The evaluations were carried out in three main settings: (1) city centre or public housing, (2) public transport, and (3) car parks.

Of the 22 included evaluations, half (11) found a desirable effect on crime and five found an undesirable effect on crime. Five evaluations found a null effect on crime (i.e., clear evidence of no effect), while the remaining one was classified as finding an uncertain effect on crime (i.e., unclear evidence of an effect).

Results from a meta-analysis provide a clearer picture of the crime prevention effectiveness of CCTV. From 18 evaluations – the other four did not provide the needed data to be included in the meta-analysis – it was concluded that CCTV had a significant desirable effect on crime, although the overall reduction in crime was a very small four per cent. Half of the studies (nine out of 18) showed evidence of a desirable effect of CCTV on crime. All nine of these studies were carried out in the UK. Conversely, the other nine studies showed no evidence of any desirable effect of CCTV on crime. All five North American studies were in this group.

The meta-analysis also examined the effect of CCTV on the most frequently measured crime types. It was found that CCTV had no effect on violent crimes (from five studies), but had a significant desirable effect on vehicle crimes (from eight studies).

Across the three settings, mixed results were found for the crime prevention effectiveness of CCTV. In the city centre and public housing setting, there was evidence that CCTV led to a negligible reduction in crime of about two per cent in experimental areas compared with control areas. CCTV had a very small but significant effect on crime in the five UK evaluations in this setting (three desirable and two undesirable), but had no effect on crime in the four North American evaluations.

The four evaluations of CCTV in public transportation systems present conflicting evidence of effectiveness: two found a desirable effect, one found no effect, and one found an undesirable effect on crime. For the two effective studies, the use of other interventions makes it difficult to say with certainty that CCTV produced the observed crime reductions. The pooled effect size for all four studies was a non-significant six per cent decrease in crime.

Unfortunately the Home Office study on CCTV and crime says little about arrest rates and conviction rates. What portion of crimes of each type in an area with CCTV were recorded by CCTV? How many of those recordings were of sufficiently high quality to allow arrest of perpetrators? Is CCTV image quality a serious obstacle for the effective use of CCTV? My guess is that the answer the final question is "Yes" and that advances in technology will improve image quality and perpetrator identification rates.

If CCTV is not helping to reduce crime rates then some comments on a BBC discussion board suggest obvious reasons why:

We had our car stolen in Dec 2000 in front of CCTV cameras. The police caught the thief by chance. He was convicted sentenced to community service (this was his EIGHTH offence), and ordered to pay us £80 compensation. We had seen nothing of the money and he has committed 4 more offences. He is only 18, which means he will probably carry out more serious crimes in the future. It is about time that the law was brought down hard on even first time offenders. First time means first time caught.
Anon, Scotland

I retired as a Chief Superintendent in 1996, having been a Divisional Commander for some years. By the time I retired I was ashamed of the service we were able to provide. A daily struggle to put out a minimum number of officers, sometimes as few as 8 or 9 from a paper total of more than 200. Where were they all? Attending courses, tied up in court, and dealing with time wasters complaints (every villain now complains as a routine, and boy does it use up police time). We need to get back to good old fashioned policing. It's time for us to return to the criminal being afraid, not the public.
John Lilley, England

I was mugged recently. The police turned up after quite some time. Records later showed that by the time they responded to my call my cards were already being used around Brixton. I was more than willing to give up my time to look at CCTV images near to where the mugging took place and where the cards were used to try to spot this guy. The police didn't seem to know how to respond to that suggestion - it was like it had never occurred to them.

I was more than willing to go out of my way to catch this guy who had caused me and doubtless many other people an awful trauma. The police just weren't interested. I'm a lawyer and I think I would have made a good witness. I am very sure about what I saw. Unfortunately, I was never given the opportunity to demonstrate this. I received three offers of counselling from the police. The best therapy they could have given me would have been to get the coward who did it in the dock.
Claire, England

There is a limit to what technology can do to counteract the decay of a culture that has lost belief in the right of law-abiding people to defend themselves. One of the hardest problems when trying to guess about the future is that there is no way of knowing whether any given culture will partially or totally decay and become very degenerate. More generally, what technology can make possible is a far larger set of possibilities than what people will choose to do with it.

By Randall Parker    2004 February 11 02:58 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2003 July 10 Thursday
DARPA To Develop Urban Combat Automated Video Recognition System

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing a system for use in urban combat called "Combat Zones That See" (CTS) to better protect troops fighting in urban combat zones.

The project's centerpiece would be groundbreaking computer software capable of automatically identifying vehicles by size, color, shape and license tag, or drivers and passengers by face.

Think about how useful a system like this would be for the occupation forces getting shot at in Baghdad.

The Combat zones That See (CTS) Program explores concepts, develops algorithms, and delivers systems for utilizing large numbers (1000s) of cameras to provide the close-in sensing demanded for military operations in urban terrain. Automatic video understanding will reduce the manpower needed to view and manage this impossibly large collection of data and reduce the bandwidth required to exfiltrate the data to manageable levels. The ability to track vehicles across extended distances is the key to providing actionable intelligence for military operations in urban terrain. Combat zones That See will advance the state-of-the-art for multiple-camera video tracking, to the point where expected track lengths reach city-sized distances. Trajectories and appearance information resulting from these tracks are the key elements to performing higher-level inference and motion pattern analysis on video-derived information. Combat zones That See will assemble the video understanding, motion pattern analysis, and sensing strategies into coherent systems suited to Urban Combat and Force Protection.

This project really is motivated by military needs.

Military Operations in Urban Terrain are fraught with danger. Urban canyons and abundant hide-sites yield standoff sensing from airborne and space-borne platforms ineffective. Short lines-of-sight neutralize much of the standoff and situation-awareness advantages currently rendered by U.S. forces. Large civilian populations and the ever-present risk of collateral damage preclude the use of overwhelming force. As a result, combat in cities has long been viewed as something to avoid. However, modern asymmetric threats seek to capitalize on these limitations by hiding in urban areas and forcing U.S. Forces to engage in cities. We can no longer avoid the need to be prepared to fight in cities. Combat zones That See will produce video understanding algorithms embedded in surveillance systems for automatically monitoring video feeds to generate, for the first time, the reconnaissance, surveillance and targeting information needed to provide close-in, continuous, always-on support for military operations in urban terrain.

You can read DARPA's contractor FAQ as a PDF.

DARPA says this system is being developed for use in foreign urban battlefields and is not meant for domestic use. This certainly seems like an honest statement of their motivations. However, such a disclaimer tells us little about how the system will eventually be used (though it certainly will be used for military purposes). First of all, once it is working are they going to turn down requests from, say, the City of New York, to install some cameras to watch for known terrorists? Seems unlikely. Secondly, once DARPA demonstrates some capability companies not involved in the development will rush to produce equivalent systems if the demand exists among law enforcement agencies. There are lots of engineers and scientists who could assist in the development of such a system.

However, just because DARPA's project will eventually enable large scale surveillance of cities which are not war zones (okay, at least not military war zones) does not mean that the project should be opposed by those who are opposed to increased domestic surveillance by governments. Civil libertarians who may wish try to stop the growth of the surveillance society by lobbying against government funding of the development of the enabling technologies in projects such as the DARPA CTS are at best fighting a delaying action. The ability to automatically recognize specific faces or cars or to read license plates is coming sooner or later as computers become faster, sensor quality improves, and visual pattern matching algorithms improve. DARPA's efforts might speed up the development of the needed technologies but their development is inevitable.

Update: The London Underground is about to test a software system called Intelligent Pedestrian Surveillance System that does automated computer monitoring of digital cameras at tube subway stops.

If the trial due to go live in two London Underground stations this week is a success, it could accelerate the adoption of the technology around the world. The software, which analyses CCTV footage, could help spot suicide attempts, overcrowding, suspect packages and trespassers. The hope is that by automating the prediction or detection of such events security staff, who often have as many as 60 cameras to monitor simultaneously, can reach the scene in time to prevent a potential tragedy.

The software is marketed by Ipsotek (Intelligent Pedestrian Surveillance and Observation Technologies), a firm that is a spin-off of the research done by their managing directory Dr. Sergio Velastin at Kingston University.

Dr. Sergio A Velastin obtained his doctoral degree from the University of Manchester (UK) for research on vision systems for pedestrian and road-traffic analysis. Joining the Department of Electronic Engineering in Kings College London (University of London) in October 1990, he became a Senior Lecturer and founded and led the Vision and Robotics Laboratory (VRL). In October 2001, Dr. Velastin and his VRL team joined the Digital Imaging Research Centre in Kingston University, with which he is still associated, attracted by its size and growing reputation in the field.

Note how the basic research being funded by a variety of governments in vision processing leads inevitably to automated systems that can monitor and detect patterns in human behavior.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 10 11:54 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 June 23 Monday
Most Surveillance Cameras In NYC Privately Owned

Most video surveillance cameras in New York City are privately owned.

The use of surveillance cameras erupted into a major issue in 1998 when the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) mapped the city and concluded that there were 2,400 surveillance cameras in Manhattan alone, a number that Mr. Brown believes has tripled.

Former NYCLU head Norman Siegel said that 89 percent of the cameras were privately owned and 11 percent publicly owned.

There is an important implication of this report: efforts to restrict the use of surveillance cameras by governments will have little effect upon the rate of growth of the use of surveillance cameras in general, This pattern of many times more privately than publicly owned security cameras probably holds throughout the United States and likely in a number of other countries as well. One factor that may make international comparisons difficult is differing patterns of public versus private ownership of port facilities, airports, bus and train stations, and other facilities where cameras could be used for security purposes.

As it now stands there does not appear to be substantial public opposition to government operation of surveillance cameras. Therefore my guess is that even government operation of surveillance cameras will continue to expand quite rapidly.

Some private organizations that operate surveillance cameras are not conventional commercial interests. For instance, the apparently private foundation Surf Life Saving Queensland wants to install surveillance cameras to prevent drownings.

CIVIL libertarians and naturalists have vowed to fight plans to install surveillance cameras at a Sunshine Coast nudist beach.

There is some irony in the notion that nudists on a public beach do not want to have their privacy invaded.

From a government police agency's perspective the proliferation of private security cameras makes their jobs easier. If privately owned and operated cameras are positioned to record public approaches to privately owned establishments and then a crime is committed in an area the private cameras will often be useful in police investigations. This form of usefulness is becoming increasingly common as private video surveillance cameras proliferate. To take just one recent example, police in Melbourne Australia are looking thru footage from a hotel's video footage even though the murder case they are investigating didn't happen in the hotel whose camera might have caught the crime.

As Moran's family began planning his funeral, police were examining footage from a surveillance camera on a hotel near the murder scene at North Essendon.

As video surveillance systems fall in price and increase in capabilities their use will grow by orders of magnitude. We may reach a point where most stores, hotels, bus stations, airports, and other public places operate multiple cameras. The cost of data storage capacity will fall so far and become so miniaturized that much more of the images recorded by surveillance cameras will be recorded and retained for longer periods of time.

What is really going to drive the push toward pervasive monitoring by video cameras is the spread of WiFi (Wireless Fidelity) internet access networks. The island nation of Niue has the first nationwide WiFi network.

ALOFI, Niue, The South Pacific -- The Internet Users Society – Niue (IUS-N), today announced that it has launched the world’s first free nation-wide WiFi Internet access service on the Polynesian island-nation of Niue. This new free wireless service which can be accessed by all Niue residents, tourists, government offices and business travelers, is being provided at no cost to the public or local government.

The number of areas covered by WiFi networks looks set to grow rapidly.

Today, IDC predicts that by 2006, 3 billion cell phones will be in use, and 50 percent of Internet users will be mobile. Gartner Dataquest estimates that by 2007, nearly 120,000 Wi-Fi hotspots will exist worldwide, with Asia accounting for about a third of these.

Using WiFi-enabled webcams and cellphone cameras an increasing number of people are going to send still images and motion video pictures of wherever they are to wherever they want to send them.Video surveillance is no longer going to be the done mainly by police, public transportation agencies, and private businesses. The general public is going to be in on it. The depiction of the surveillance society of David Brin's Earth science fiction novel is looking more prophetic every day.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 23 06:51 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 May 26 Monday
Company To Sell Internet Web Cam Security Services

Priceline.com founder Jay Walker has founded a new company USHomeGuard whose purpose is to employ people to watch critical infrastructure sites over the internet using web cams to alert security officials of potentially dangerous intruders.

But if onsite cameras beamed photos to the World Wide Web, Americans could monitor these sites from home. If they spied a potential attacker - a masked man trying to scale a power plant fence, or a van parked next to a reservoir - they could alert security agents with a click of the mouse. Agents would call local authorities and help avert disaster.

This proposal is very much in keeping with ideas that science fiction writer David Brin has described in his non-fiction book The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? and in his fun fiction read Earth. There is a definite inevitability to Walker's business idea regardless of whether his company eventually succeeds in making it into a commercial success.

Government employees will amount to only a small fraction of the total number of people watching security cameras and other surveillance sensors. Far more people in private companies will conduct electronic surveillance. But the largest users of surveillance technologies will likely turn out to be private individuals watching their families, homes, romantic interests, celebrities, and anything else that interests them.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 26 01:34 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 November 12 Tuesday
Image Processing To Detect Criminals

A computerized image processing system is being used in public places in the UK to identify criiminal activity and other problems in crowds:

EU policy to encourage more people off the roads and onto public transport, as well as addressing the needs of public service operators, has led to a series of collaborative research projects between universities and industry for several years. Leading UK universities in this area include Kingston University, Reading University, University College London (UCL), and Kings College London (KCL), among others. The research groups in the Digital Imaging Research Centre (DIRC) at Kingston University, led by Dr. Sergio A Velastin, formerly of KCL, and the Centre for Transport Studies (CTS) at UCL, where the key researcher is Dr Maria-Alicia Vicencio-Silva, are working collaboratively in a number of related areas directly aimed at alleviating some of the public transport issues highlighted.

Under EPSRC and EU-funded projects, the teams have developed a distributed pedestrian monitoring system, based on image processing techniques, that brings suspicious images to the prompt attention of staff. The system consists of a set of networked modular components using open standards for communications and annotation along with a number of dedicated supervisory PCs, called MIPSA (Modular Integrated Pedestrian Surveillance Architecture). It can be connected to an existing conventional CCTV system (16 cameras/MIPSA), collecting and storing the video streams, routing them to image processing devices, and feeding processed data back to the CCTV control centre using a unified interface.

In order to ensure the system is reliable and robust, thus reducing the possibility of false alarms, simple image processing techniques have been used. Video data is first processed to separate motion from the fixed background. One of the key enabling elements of this project is the DSP video processing based hardware, designed and manufactured by UK firm, Sollatek Ltd (www.sollatek.com), which is used to provide the fast calculation of motion data from the video streams. While UCL researchers have identified the features that need to be extracted, the Kingston University team has concentrated on the image acquisition and processing requirements.

In operation, the system takes conventional video inputs, combined with site-specific information from the CCTV operators, to detect unusual motion patterns which can arise due to situations such as congestion, trespassing and threatening behaviour. Excessive permanence of an object that is known not to be part of the background, for example, could indicate loitering, an injured person or even a suspect package. Similarly, large areas of motionless objects could indicate congestion, while an object moving against the flow could indicate an incident requiring further attention, such as gate jumping. In this application, extracting the basic image properties is sufficient; the system does not need to refine the nature of the incident further, but simply alert the relevant CCTV monitor operator.

It can detect patterns of movement characteristic of pickpockets:

He fends off concerns by explaining that it's very difficult to recognize people in these images, and also that no one is going to be targeted for features like unusual clothes or an identifiable walk. Instead, he says, more universal situations will be programmed into the system, such as people walking against a crowd, which can be a sign of pickpocketing. "They're only going to be stopped and investigated if there is sufficient reason to do so," he says.

This technology of course will become increasingly sophisticated. Science fiction author David has argued that pervasive monitoring by computer cameras and other sensor systems is coming in our future. See his book The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?. You can also find out more about his book at this page on his web site.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 12 07:48 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
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