mandag den 19. oktober 2009

Video Surveillance and Privacy

In Copenhagen this summer has seen a number of gang shootings in certain districts. Events like these are certain to raise a request for more video surveillance, more policing, and prolonged prison verdicts.
Video surveillance in Denmark has been relatively limited compared to UK and US, even banks have been restricted from using outdoor video surveillance. But like threats from terrorism, the threat from gang wars - however local and limited, might change the attitude against video surveillance using all sorts of arguments like “The law abiding citizens have nothing to hide” to “It will result in much faster arrests”, even “This will prevent crimes”. (See Camwatch: Preventing Crime 24/7 )

According to Gus Hosein , visiting senior fellow at London School of Economics and recent speaker at the European Privacy Seminar in Copenhagen “The Net will not Forget” , more than 44 studies on the effect of Video Surveillance have shown that the effect in preventing crime is almost non-existing, most likely reductions observed in thefts of bicycle and from cars, whereas violent crimes do not seem to be reduced at all. Also the suggestion that video surveillance should be a significant help to identify criminals after the fact, is doubtful – at least when we consider the traditional types of CCTV surveillance systems. (SeeWikipedia: )

According to this article in the Telegraph, only one crime solved pr. year pr. 1.000 cameras seem to be the result: See ,And similarly, according to UK police, CCTV is an utter fiasco:
One of the reasons may be due to the old fashioned technology that is typically used: Up to 80 per cent of CCTV footage seized by police is of such poor quality that it is almost worthless for detecting crimes, it has been claimed.
And yet CCTV accounts for three quarters of the Home Office's total spending on crime prevention, making it the single most heavily-funded crime prevention measure outside the criminal justice system.

A comparison of the number of cameras in each London borough with the proportion of crimes solved there found that police are no more likely to catch offenders in areas with hundreds of cameras than in those with hardly any. In fact, four out of five of the boroughs with the most cameras have a record of solving crime that is below average:

To get an overview of which laws regarding privacy and Video Surveillance are in force in Europe, see the following article on legal regulations of CCTV in Europe:

But even if permission is granted to establish a video surveillance system, this may be very questionable as this report points out:
The reports points out that authorisation should always include guidelines on the management and storage of the product of the surveillance, which should be under the supervision of the Data Protection Agency. Further, the following issues exist:“ -The continuing confusion with regard to the need for authorisation when surveillance equipment (such as CCTV) is focused on an individual in a public place. It is not where the CCTV is placed (which may be overt or covert) but the manner in which the camera is used that is determinative of whether the surveillance is covert; and- Authorising Officers not knowing the capability of the surveillance equipment which they are authorising. For instance, there are differences between video cameras that record continuously and those activated by motion; and between thermal image and infra-red capability. These differences may have an important bearing on how a surveillance operation is conducted and the breadth of the authorisation being granted. Therefore, a simple authorisation for ‘cameras’ is usually insufficient ”

Even if the number of US studies on video surveillance is limited, some material can be found:
Video Surveillance - Is It An Effective Crime Prevention Tool ? (Obs: this is dated 1997 )

The issues around video surveillance are several: The cameras will invariably shoot a number of completely innocent people, and either he footage is stored for an unknown period of time, storage maybe guarded, maybe not – and sometimes the cameras are directly linked to a control centre, where officers or even private persons can observe and identify persons that can be linked to specific places at specific hours. Who sees this? How is it recorded? It is definitely not an excuse that the quality may be poor - as this may even lead to other types of misinterpreting, like who is actually shown on the tapes.

In spite of the UK experiences, a number of cities in US are installing another type of video surveillance systems based on more intelligent cameras, seem to become the next hit: See this ABC Chigaco Interview: Intelligent IRIS – Video Analytics

The new type of systems may have several benefits, for instance that the cameras can be programmed so that they only record out-of-line situations, whether it is traffic, lack of movement, crossing an (invisible) border line. This automatically reduces the privacy problem of storing tons of innocent person’s data. Also the ability (not discussed in the Chigaco clippings) to mask individuals to avoid recognition of phases is a clear improvement over traditional CCTV-systems.
(Intelligent cameras come in many makes, IP Cameras: - But the system as such requires a network, an architecture, analytical solutions and the privacy intelligence on top – like in Chigaco)

The so-called Smart Video Surveillance is discussed here:
The article clearly describes the benefits of pre-programmed observation criteria, and if this is combined with dynamic microphones, it may prove useful in assisting in arrests of real criminals and even increase privacy compared to traditional surveillance systems.
Yet another wave of ‘indirect’ video surveillance systems is rapidly on the rise: Congestion charging of cars in an out of city centres as well as video assisted toll systems represents another threat.

See this article on ‘Congestion pricing, the road to the Surveillance State:’
And it really seems that quite a number of cities will have this kind of solutions in operations. Here is a short overview of traffic congestion schemes:

In Stockholm, one of the most successful anti-congestion road charging systems, the privacy question is solved by strict regulations on the storage and retention of the data, and by blurring the faces of the drivers and passengers on all footage. It may even be further improved, for instance by deploying some of the solutions described in this article on “Congestion pricing that respects driver’s privacy” by Andrew Blumberg (From Stanford) and Robin Chase (From Meadow Networks)

So to sum up:
Video Surveillance is erroneously being interpreted as trust-enhancing, supposed to calm the upset citizens, whereas the truth so far is that it simply doesn’t work: It can’t be shown to prevent crimes – violence due to drugs, alcohol, gangs etc. will prevail, probably either disregarding the risk or moving to other parts of cities, and the quality as we know it in CCTV is not very helpful in police work after the crime has been committed.
We may have new, more intelligent solutions coming to the market, but it must be required that privacy is embedded in these solutions. This goes for masking faces – maybe making it possible to lift masking after a verdict based on suspicion – it goes for regulations on storing and retention, and it goes for rules for deployment, particularly of covert cameras, which in any cases should be limited in the public space.
These rules should also be followed even if the purpose is not ‘surveillance’ but Road Charging,

1 kommentar:

frederik.kortbak sagde ...

This post gives a good overview on video surveillance.
Although it is doubtful that video surveillance has any crime prevention effects at all it might be another story as to crime investigation.
Much research is from UK.We need more Danish research on this. I have asked Brian Mikelsen, the Danish minister of justice, about this, but I have not yet received a reply.
But what seems to motivate the politicians to support video surveillance in spite of the lack of prevention and investigation of crime ? I think that the mere factor that video surveillance is EXPERIENCED by the citizen as a confidence-building measure is the motivation.
This political mantra is seen more and more as a valid argument. For instance during the last Danish general election the opposition argued that ordinary people experienced deterioration in daily care service in spite of documentation showing more public spending ever.