Cameras in the UK

The UK police are considering mandating the quality of commercial CCTV cameras to ensure that the images meet their evidence standards.

More on cameras. Also this.

Posted on April 9, 2007 at 12:26 PM • 24 Comments

Comments

Stephan SamuelApril 9, 2007 1:02 PM

Even with a higher standard for CCTV, they're nowhere near what's required for the software you see on CSI:, that generates clear images of people from video taken of the reflections on peoples' eyeballs.

NealApril 9, 2007 1:10 PM

Interesting comment in the article about surveillance soon being as bad as in Russia and Malaysia, isn't it.

All that surveillance in those countries, and all the fear of the government, but it's not the crooks, the criminals, the terrorists that cringe but the innocent citizens that are oppressed. The bad guys continue on as always, targetting those in charge with bribes or familial threats to get them to turn a blind eye or just chalking up losses to business as usual.

Alexandre Carmel-VeilleuxApril 9, 2007 1:21 PM

Making CCTV better is not necessarily a bad thing. It's different from making it pervasive. A lot of cameras are legitimate deterrent where there is no expectation of privacy (such as at the local convenience store).

mdfApril 9, 2007 2:22 PM

"Making CCTV better is not necessarily a bad thing. It's different from making it pervasive."

Eh? If 50% of N cameras are bad, and you fix them, it's the same as if you had a system of N/2 good cameras and added N/2 more. That is, you have made the system "more pervasive".

ANd if 100% of N cameras are good, but you double their resolution, a similar result follows.

peter paulApril 9, 2007 2:33 PM

QUOTE: Police chiefs believe the system has developed in a ''piecemeal'' way and the time has come to impose rules on the type of cameras used. ... The growth of digital cameras has particularly alarmed officers. .... Police want operators to take advantage of new technologies such as smart cameras that can automatically identify people and analyse their behaviour. ========================================================
This typical bias towards control that is the police attitude towards information in general and its distribution in particular will produce contrary results, especially as regards concerns imoprtant to security. The Imposiing seems not about Quality, or Utility, but about Conformity. So they will require an output format and a granularity, which will likely be super-imposed without trade-off on native or resident performance and programming. ------------------------------------------------------------------ As concerns changing resident programming, either it will be pixilated upwards to 'improve' the image, while not providing more real information, but only anti-aliasing interpolated machine created information, or it will degrade a superior resolution to conform to the standard. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- With programming, it is simply an additional translation layer that will import all the vulnerabilities of standard translation into the security of the "transmission of image" problem - i.e. making images easier to manfuacture/alter/hack in chain of custody, which will then be magically credited as 'better' evidence. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ With what result? Degraded evidence, higher costs to compete, and worse product results. This counter-result always happens when one ethical framework tries to dictate its priorities into the activities of another ethical sphere, whether the Marketplace (business) taking over medical care (in the US) or Executive taking over the Marketplace (UK). ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- So, I wonder, why are the officers "alarmed'?

nostromoApril 9, 2007 2:53 PM

"as bad as in Russia and Malaysia"

Neal, have you ever actually been to Malaysia? The level of corruption is probably higher than the US, but in other ways it is a freer country than the US. It doesn't claim to be entitled to make a foreign visitor disappear, for example.

alexApril 9, 2007 2:56 PM

@Neal

"Interesting comment in the article about surveillance soon being as bad as in Russia and Malaysia, isn't it."

Nice comment to make though it has little to do with reality. The system of surveillance in Russia (have no experience with Malasia) is of a copletely different order i.e. snitches instead of high-tech.

Nevertheless, all those camera's make you wonder. What about this hypothesis: the level camera surveillance is inversely proportional to the level of social coherence in a society.

JoshuaApril 9, 2007 2:57 PM

An interesting thought: if the police set out to specify a high standard for quality in CCTV cameras, that increases the cost to install and maintain a CCTV camera. At some point, if they insist on high enough -- e.g. "reflection in an eyeball" (thanks, Stephan) -- quality, it becomes economically prohibitive to install ubiquitous CCTV cameras.

And you know damned well the camera companies will charge top dollar for their "law enforcement grade" products.

DazedApril 9, 2007 3:37 PM

Presumably, cameras will need a "Police Approved" stamp on them to be installed in public places.

"We want a generic technology that allows us to download images easily and quickly."

If the camera manufacturers are required to use common formats the they will have to compete more for market share. On the other hand, there could be nightmarish patent problems; who will hold the patent for the "generic" technology? I suspect the police haven't much experience in digital patents and standards.

My line of reasoning also makes me wonder how the police decide what is admissible and wht isn't in court?

berneApril 9, 2007 4:53 PM

Has anyone ever had to retrieve video from one of the hundreds of no-name rebranded dvs systems coming out of China nowadays? Sure, the gas station has a recording, but you need the Happy-Magic exclusive player to see it. Then hope he proprietary (broken) mpeg hasn't lost any frames, etc... Then multiply by the number of these cases you see in a year.
Not that I approve, but you see where the cops are coming from. Gone are the days of just pulling the tape from last Friday and making a copy.

NealApril 9, 2007 5:13 PM

Yah, my mention of the quote wasn't about the type of surveillance in those countrys, how it differs from cameras, or whether it was an accurate accessment. It was to note the parallel between countries who have historically monitored their populations', or visitor's, every move and the fact that the innocent in those countries are the ones who are most often oppressed and controlled rather than the criminals.

RalphApril 10, 2007 1:22 AM

Camera's are not a top use for limited security dollars - it has to be said.

However; if you're in the mood for wasting money why not get a decent camera for your money.

Better still - make a law so it's someone elses money!

When you say it like that it's clearly a budget issue.

JeffHApril 10, 2007 2:37 AM

The irony is that even with good cameras, the camera placement & UK police are still too dumb to actually use the information correctly.

A while back, we had the police come around because apparently a member of my family had forgotten to pay for fuel. We could produce a receipt for the day in question, but they had video evidence placing the car at the pump, so they said, and apparently it wasn't paid for.

Thankfully, we were able to clear the matter up because by sheer luck, our car used petrol, and the missing payment was for diesel. Turns out the camera was pointed in the wrong place, and it had been the car behind us. It even had the wrong time which was why we had trouble with the receipt (they'd not adjusted for DST).

This is a perfect example of mis-use of cameras to solve the wrong problem. Worse, even with a valid receipt, the camera is being assumed to be truthful, not the person. Innocent until proven guilty? Not in the UK.

VanceApril 10, 2007 3:39 AM

The next step is to require all individuals in the UK to keep a daily diary including detailed descriptions and locations of people and events encountered. This will be much more reliable than the typical eyewitness report of today which is prone to misidentification and information loss through forgetfulness. Of course, such diaries must be kept in English so that expensive and time-consuming translation is not necessary.

Disappointed readerApril 10, 2007 4:13 AM

Too many links and quotes and not enough commentary. It would have been nice to 'hear' mr schneier's comments on the matter. Maybe an aide is blogging on his behalf?

dave tweedApril 10, 2007 7:36 AM

One thing people are missing is that only rarely do the people with the authority and money to install CCTV cameras have technical expertise in technology (eg, local councils, retail park owners, etc). Equally, I gather that certain UK public bodies like the home office and the police have quite stringent rules about what they can say in response to individual enquiries about the relative quality of bids for surveillance contracts (partly from competition concerns, partly from local democracy concerns). So it may partly be an "oblique tack" to get appropriate quality review into the marketplace: since certification happens between the police and manufacturers about product lines rather than individual bids, and then the actual cctv installing client decides between certified alternatives, it doesn't open up potential complaints about inappropriate influence/loss of local democracy.

Note that I'm quite dubious about respecting privacy issues with cctv, but hoping that "keeping the equipment rubbish is the way to preserve privacy" strikes me as the wrong way to deal with the problem.

Bill Higgins-- Beam JockeyApril 10, 2007 9:24 AM

This is reminiscent of Vernor Vinge's idea that a government could make it illegal to produce integrated circuit chips unless they carried a certain amount of government-mandated hardware. This could be useful for forensic or surveillance purposes, but it could also carry rights-management or tax-accounting functions that would make some burdensome red tape disappear into our machines, making life simpler for everyone.

A black market in illegal chips might arise, but it might be difficult to conceal illicit chip-fab plants, if they must operate on a large scale.

X the UnknownApril 10, 2007 5:14 PM

@peter paul: "So, I wonder, why are the officers 'alarmed'?"

Well, in Chicago they're getting a bit alarmed about the ubiquitousness and quality of these cameras. Too many cops being caught on film doing bad things...

This is, of course, the "other side" of the ubiquitous camera question. If we have lots of cameras running all the time, and members of the general public (and press) have access to the video-stream, then it also becomes a check on the abuse of official power.

That means that regulations will need to be passed to "secure" the video data (ostensably to prevent tampering with the "evidence"), so the general public can't keep catching cops with their hands in the till, or kicking a lady while she's down, or whatever the outrage of the day is.

A more-subtle, and probably more-effective, way to "improve the quality" of surveillance video, would be to have the courts mandate a certain minimal quality-of-picture to be allowable as evidence. Especially with modern video editing tools, grainy shots with low frame rates are just too suspect - literally anybody could have created that stuff on their home computer. This will probably happen sooner or later, and the "standard" will continue to evolve with the capabilities of consumer hardware and software.

However, once a minimal standard is set by the courts, everybody who actually bothers to install and maintain a camera will want one that meeds these criteria. No "Police Certification" (and more importantly, from a PR standpoint, no enforcement) necessary.

qaqwexApril 11, 2007 6:34 AM

Living in the CCTV capital of the world I come across the following ironic advice from the police that people photographing CCTV cameras should be reported as potential terrorists. I also read that on the street where George Orwell lived and wrote "nineteen eighty-four" there are 32 CCTV cameras watching the public. I have to go into Central London this afternoon and given the route I take I will appear on approx 500 cameras (Tube to Victoria change to Oxford Street, walk along Oxford street, dip down past the USA Emabssy for a meeting, back past the Embassy and around Selfridges for another meeting then along Oxford Street and back home). I can't help thinking the saturation effect of these cameras isn't leading to a situation where there is too much data to search in a timely fashion and therefore this comprimises security rather than adds to it.

dave tweedApril 11, 2007 8:26 AM

Everyone seems to be assuming the primary import of these cameras is as evidence in court. It seems more likely to me that in the overwhelming majority of cases of pre-sited cameras (ie, not specially installed in order to catch suspected illegal behaviour) the primary use of these images is in order to go from a crime scene to particular suspects (either through direct recognition on the images, or by "following" people until you link them with say a car) and then using as court evidence more concrete stuff found at the victims homes, forensics, etc. (Providing you don't actually break any laws doing it, a policeman doesn't have to provide the evidence he used to track down the suspect, just valid evidence that the suspect is guilty.) Does anyone with actual criminal investigation experience in the UK know how often camera footage used during in an investigation is actually used in the court case? I suspect they aren't used very much because mostly they don't show actual criminal behaviour but rather "X was in the right place at the right time" -- which the police use to justify using resources to investigate them further -- which is very rarely disputed by the defence.

AnonymousApril 14, 2007 4:35 AM

@X the Unknown

"literally anybody could have created that stuff on their home computer. This will probably happen sooner or later,"

This has already happened in the U.K. I cannot remember the exact details but as I remember it from the news item.

A Parking fine was issued, the pecipient deffended the action saying that the area was not correctly identified as there where no parking signs at the time the fine was issued.

The Parking Organisation produced a Photograph with a sign in it. Artifacts in the picture showed that most probably it had been tampered with by the Parking Organisation.

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