The Eyes Have It: Technology & the Fight between Good and Evil

Cover Story

The Eyes Have It: Technology & the Fight between Good and Evil

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  October 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 2011 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY

Communications technology played a central role in enabling the villains who caused death and destruction during this summer’s London area riots. But don’t despite techno citizens! Many of these same technologies are being used by government authorities to fight crime.

What’s interesting here, however, is not so much the widespread use of social networking and video surveillance, but rather how people and organizations are using these tools.

Reports indicate that the London rioters organized the timing and locations of their vandalizing, looting and other nefarious activities using instant messages on BlackBerry devices, mobile phone texts and Twitter (News - Alert) communications. Police, in turn, have been reviewing Twitter feeds to seek information on the individuals who fomented and otherwise were involved in the riots.

Officials are also leveraging video captured by scores of surveillance cameras stationed throughout the London area.

ABC News recently reported there are approximately 8,000 surveillance cameras in the streets of London. Other reports put the London area video surveillance camera count at 500,000, or even as high as 1.4 million. In any case, ABC reports that “People in the United Kingdom are believed to be the most watched in the world. By one estimate, there is one closed circuit television camera for every 14 citizens, so police have countless images from the riots.”

In an emotional comment during the riots, Prime Minister David Cameron said:

"These are sickening scenes – scenes of people looting, vandalizing, thieving, robbing, scenes of people attacking police officers and even attacking fire crews as they're trying to put out fires. This is criminality, pure and simple, and it has to be confronted and defeated.”

Cameron added that the pictured criminals were being identified and arrested, adding “we will not let any phony concerns about human rights get in the way of the publication of these pictures and arrest of these individuals."

Rather than relying exclusively on in-house resources to review the images captured using London’s video surveillance system, authorities posted some of the images on Flickr Photostream, along with an invitation to those viewing them to call police if they can make any identifications.

David Murakami Wood, who is Canada Research Chair in Surveillance Studies, and an associate professor in the sociology department at Queen’s University in Ontario, in an Aug. 10 blog wrote: “… the way [video surveillance] is being used says a lot about both the limits of CCTV and the general problem of analysis of video images.

“As part of ‘Operation Withern’, the investigation into the rioting, the Metropolitan Police have set up a special section of their website, London Disorder Images, as well as on Flickr, which is essentially crowdsourcing the identification of suspects,” he blogs. “Despite being the most well-resourced police force in the U.K., the Met lacks the resources, time and expertise to analyze and identify everyone it wishes to identify itself, and with widespread popular anger about the riots, they are banking on opening up the process of surveillance and identification as being more efficient and effective – and they may well be right.”

Wood notes that identifying individuals from images can be especially challenging if subjects are not at a good angle, not at an acceptable distance from the camera, or if lighting is less than optimal. Nonetheless, he writes, this “is a tactic we are seeing more and more in many places (e.g. Toronto, following the G20 disturbances).”

Whether or not it involves government authorities sharing captured images with the public at large, video surveillance seems to be growing in popularity.

China has announced an initiative to invest big in video surveillance in what it says is an effort to combat crime.

There’s also a lot of activity around video surveillance in South America. Brazil is the largest and fastest growing market for video surveillance there, and one of the fastest growing markets globally, according to data released last year by IMS Research, which says Argentina and Mexico are also hot areas on this front.

Video surveillance has been a key tool in helping authorities fight crime during Brazil’s world-renown Carnival celebration; violent crime during the festival decreased more than 30 percent after the cameras were installed in 2008. There’s also been a lot of discussion about Brazil employing video surveillance for the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics. (Video surveillance is expected to be an important part of London's security strategy around the 2012 Olympic Games there as well.)

Meanwhile, more cities in the U.S. seem to be turning on to video surveillance.

Chicago has a video surveillance network known as Operation Virtual Shield that addresses aviation, fire, police, streets and sanitation, and transportation applications. The cameras provide first responders and Homeland Security officials with additional points of contact throughout the city that can be viewed during an emergency.

Even smaller locales, like the City of Longmont, Colo. (population 71,000), have city wide video surveillance.

“They’re springing up everywhere,” says Benga Erinle, president and CEO of 3eTI, which offers VirtualFence, an out-of-the-box wireless video surveillance and auto detection system. 

Video Surveillance Views

According to MarketsandMarkets, a U.S.-based global market research and consulting company, the video surveillance market is expected to grow from $11.5 billion in 2008 to $37.7 billion in 2015 at a CAGR of 20.4 percent from 2010 to 2015. Of course, that includes video surveillance for both public and private applications.

As Ruth Seigel of Grandstream Networks (News - Alert) Inc., noted in a recent piece she did for another TMC publication, there are many applications for video surveillance solutions, including door-entry applications and remote monitoring of hospitality businesses, retail, and other locations.

 “We forecast IP video surveillance product sales will increase by 200 percent total between 2010 and 2012, significantly disrupting and overtaking analog CCTV sales,” says John Honovich of IP Video Market Info. “We are now bullish on the growth of IP video driven by recent widespread advances in product offering and pricing.”

For example, Toshiba (News - Alert) recently unveiled a 2-megapixel IP camera that can be mounted wherever needed without concerns about wires. The IK-WB16A-W is equipped with) 802.11n wireless connectivity, which frees it from the shackles of coaxial or CAT cables.

Advances in video surveillance solutions (some of which allow cameras to be set up virtually anywhere and enable video to be viewed remotely by authorized individuals via the Internet); our society’s growing focus on security; and the sense that we’re living in an increasingly unpredictable world would all seem to confirm the positive outlook for video surveillance.

However, not everybody is taking comfort from the rise of video surveillance. Indeed, as governments around the world deploy cameras to watch the movements of their citizens and guests, and as dictatorial governments abroad fall (aided, in part, by social media), some are questioning what video surveillance means not just for our security, but for our privacy and human rights as well. 

Edited by Jennifer Russell