Me on Surveillance Cameras

My fourth essay for CNN.com, on surveillance cameras. The Al-Mabhouh assassination made a nice news hook.

EDITED TO ADD (3/4): The security camera industry responds.

Posted on February 26, 2010 at 6:22 AM • 43 Comments

Comments

TimFebruary 26, 2010 7:33 AM

I think you're being a bit over-critical. CCTV may not prevent crime, and it may not be particularly helpful in solving it (although that's probably due to poor quality footage and operator error), but I'm not sure that's what they're *for*.

Isn't their value in simply letting us know what happened, and providing a record of it? I.e. preventing the "Oh shit some crime happened here - I wish I had some kind of video recording of what went down."

The *real* issue, that no-one ever mentions is that computer vision techniques aren't too far from being able to automatically track people across a camera network. There'll be all sorts of privacy issues.

Stuff like this: http://mi.eng.cam.ac.uk/research/projects/Crowds/...

Clive RobinsonFebruary 26, 2010 7:40 AM

@ Bruce,

You note that the Dubi suspects did not where hats and glassess or other items that hide the base facial features that "facial recognition" software is supposed to use.

It is one of those things from the "Al-Mabhouh" killing that has not actually been talked about.

It is important because if facial recognition is not reliable (and the suspects obviously thought so) then the next round of Tax Payer Billking involving back ends for CCTV systems is about to start.

Along with unmaned passport control points.

B. RealFebruary 26, 2010 7:55 AM

I saw the title "Me on Surveillance Cameras" and I was thinking we'd be treated to video clips of Bruce walking around various hotels, stores, and college campuses all strung together ...

Dave BFebruary 26, 2010 8:38 AM

@B. Real: I was thinking exactly the same thing.

@Tim: On the contrary, those are precisely the reasons that have been given to install such cameras: crime prevention, culprit identification and prosecution, et cetera. You can't suddenly argue that that's not what they're for, just because it suits your argument.

Excerpts from codes of practice of arbitrarily selected local authorities in the UK:
Aberdeenshire County Council: "Principally they are installed for purposes of the prevention, investigation and detection of crime (particularly, but not restricted to, vandalism or the theft of Council property) and the apprehension and prosecution of offenders."

Oldham County Council: "The objectives of the Oldham CCTV System as determined by the partnership which form the
lawful basis for the processing of data are:-
• To help reduce the fear of crime
• To help deter crime
• To help detect crime and provide evidential material for court proceedings..."

North Somerset: "The purpose of the CCTV system is to:
◆ help make the area safe for those people who live, work and trade in it and also those who visit North Somerset
◆ help to prevent, detect and reduce crime and disorder in the area
◆ reduce the fear of crime and provide reassurance to the public
◆ assist in crime prevention; countering terrorism; helping to identify, apprehend and prosecute offenders; and to provide the police and the Council with evidence to take criminal and civil action in the courts"

These are just for illustration, and they are small excerpts of larger documents, which may also include other justifications, but those are reasons that the UK government installs and allows the installation of CCTV systems.

Anon.February 26, 2010 8:55 AM

Surveillance cameras are useful after crimes have been committed to supply evidence.

Footage can provide clues that more quickly lead investigators in the right direction before other critical evidence is compromised.

In a TV-world, people "understand" CCTV and that kind of evidence resonates with juries - leading to convictions.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 26, 2010 9:10 AM

@ Tim,

'Isn't their value in simply letting us know what happened, and providing a record of it? I.e. preventing the "Oh shit some crime happened here - I wish I had some kind of video recording of what went down."'

If that is the only use for CCTV then they are not even usefull for that.

They usually are of such poor quality that you cannot usualy tell the sex of the person when full face or what ethnicity they may be.

They do not record sound and the poor quality is usless for lip reading.

Thus a very large part of what went into the start of an incedent is missing.

Also they are very rarely used in court in the UK as evidence even supporting evidence which suggests that the CPS (UK Criminal Prosecution.

Of more interest is the quality of "police cams" those that officers carry on them or in their vehicals which are in some cases better than home video and very close to broadcast quality.

Invariably these appear to be used for "World's Most loony driver" or for evidence when a police officer is attacked.

As a lay person you would get the very clear message that it's one effective system for the Police benifit and one usless system for the people who pay for it.

In practice I suspect part of this is due to the usuall when, where and how the systems where installed and how they are maintained.

If you look around to find the information you will find that in reality the cameras and the recording equipment is at best 10% of the cost of these systems.

It is worthwhile looking at this because you can easily identify a vast amount of poor planning and thus waste.

You can easily see from the bulk figures Bruce gives for London (5e+5 cameras 7e+8 USD) of 1400USD/camera is very high.

Even so I think Bruce's figure may be on the very low side of reality (ie based on Gov fiddled figures).

The last time I looked at it with independent figures from within the industry (not Police or Gov) it worked out at 1500GBP (which at the time was nearer 2500USD).

To give your eye brows some excercise ;) for that sort of money and in those sort of quantities I could buy 8-12 inch telescopes with ultra low light CCD 1024x1024 sensors with wide area network interfaces.

Alternativly I could go looking on the web and find cameras of similar quality to the "Street CCTV" for less than 20USD and much higher quality TCP/IP cams with 100baseT connectors for less than 50USD.

So Using Bruce's figs (1400) and being generous on the camera cost (100) you have 1300USD of other infrastructure and instalation costs.

To identify the waste we also need to remember that most of those systems have very proprietry analogue or digital comms to get the pictures back to the command/control center.

Thus if you were to look at a 100baseT camera it's invariably "full duplex" thus 100meter Ethernet "time based" distance limit does not apply. Just the cable crosstalk and loss limit which is nearer 500meter with reasonable quality cable (I've actually had an IP camera powerd localy to it, send reliable data through two 300meter drums of cable).

So you could setup a 16 camera system (1600USD) at upto 300meter (100USD/drum) from a switch (240USD) using POE (500USD for frame and plates) connected to a computer (1000USD) used for storage / backup to provide pictures almost anywhere in the world.

All for a basic starting price of less than 5000USD or around 300USD/camera these days. Which is a lot lot less than 1400USD.

But this does include other infrestructure it would be nearer 2000USD for just the cameras and recording equipment giving a generous 125USD/camera (which is nearer 8% than the 10% I indicated originaly).

However unlike the "custom" systems currently installed around London the cost of upgrading in place of such a system over time would be minimal as the cables etc would not need to be changed just the cameras and computer.

Which probably indicates why electronic security is such big business in the UK.

John DFebruary 26, 2010 9:19 AM

Some years ago, our university computer labs were being consistently vandalized: mostly petty, e.g. coke poured onto the keyboards, balls stolen out of the mice, etc. So we added cameras, and immediately the vandalism stopped. Of course the vandals could have kept it up (by wearing hoodies, for example) but they didn't: evidently cameras raised the bar just high enough that these casual criminals were deterred.

That being said, determined criminals are not going to be deterred by a few cameras.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 26, 2010 9:20 AM

@ Anon.,

Would you care to back up any of your statments with even UK Gov figures?

Last time I looked the UK Met was basicaly saying with the best interpretation the video footage was about equivalent to "not worth it" when compared to conventional investagative effort.

Also various police officers have been talking about CCTV as "anti-PR".

That is if there has been a crime Police knocking on doors "walking and talking" is not just pro-active at bringing in other information it actually lets people see crime in their area is being addressed. Where as time spent viewing video footage not only produces less usable evidence than the "foot time" it is unseen and locals think that crime is not being investigated.

RockDoggyFebruary 26, 2010 10:33 AM

I love how the CNN.com reader comments (always good for a laugh) all focus on the very things Bruce refutes in the column - specifically deterrence of crime and folks clinging to strawman arguments supporting them rather than the data that doesn't.

And that Bruce is apparently a tin-foil hat wearing wacko. The armchair experts have spoken!

John CampbellFebruary 26, 2010 10:34 AM

I wonder if the drive for CCTV cameras comes from Oklahoma City rather than anything else; IIRC the folks who brought in the truck bomb were recorded incidentally by other cameras whose job was NOT to watch that building or its environs.

If we had a SPECTACULAR event like that which the cameras made it easier to follow-up then you can expect a lot of sheeple to clamor for more camera deployment.

I think we're having one of those tugs-of-war between the concept of citizen... or subject.

Dom De VittoFebruary 26, 2010 10:39 AM

I stand with the Met police. It doesn't reduce crime, or help. The poles look nice and can be used to steady oneself whilst 'chukking up'.

CCTV can't usually be used as evidence, because it doesn't meet the evidential standard expected of the courts.

MailmanFebruary 26, 2010 10:44 AM

The comments left by readers on the CNN web page are frightening. "Don't blame the cameras, it's not their fault" and of course, the good old "What's wrong with cameras, we have nothing to hide."

SamuelFebruary 26, 2010 11:01 AM

Bruce, you're dismissing CCTV successes shown by their proponents as cherry-picking but you're doing the same to illustrate their ineffectiveness: Seriously no-one would pretend a CCTV could deter/detect a professional team of spies.
Also most of your rationale against the effectiveness is a matter of technology maturity. Be it for the cost, image quality, but also image control, correlation and management. So, the more time flows, the less those arguments will weight.
The point remaining is the privacy issue and on this matter, I seriously think that the only one who got it right is David Brin: It's futile to rebuke video surveillance because it IS happening, but it's possible to put it on the side of citizens to also monitor the police and the politicians.

JasonFebruary 26, 2010 11:41 AM

@John D

If the vandalism stopped after installing cameras, who's to say installing fake cameras that record nothing but have a lens and a blinking LED wouldn't have accomplished the same thing with much less cost?

At HomeFebruary 26, 2010 11:42 AM

I live in an apartment block, with it's own CCTV, 24 hour on-site security with an office at the front entrance and a resident RFID photo card entry system. The office has a bank of monitors, as the office also functions as a local control room for other housing projects. We also don't have our own front door letter box but have individual small post boxes in a central lobby overseen by the control room and CCTV, with anything bigger than a small packet having to be collected via the control room.

Some people might like these CCTV and related measures, but I find them quite intrusive. It is as if I have to obtain permission every time I go in an out of my own home. When the photo card is issued nothing is signed for and no information is given on what purpose the data recorded may be used for.

The security 'helpfully' put a recycle plastic bag in our post box on a regular basis, if anyone is anyway from home for an extended period the continued presence of the bag confirms it.

The tentacles of the Panopticon left the Prison system some time ago and are beginning to gain a strangle hold on every day life.

One of the key design purposes of the Panopticon was to reduce the costs of surveillance of Prisoners, in today's age that purpose is being reversed. 85% of my accommodation service charge is made up of the apartment security service...s, I therefore pay for my own Surveillance.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 26, 2010 12:34 PM

@ Jason, John D,

"If the vandalism stopped after installing cameras, who's to say installing fake cameras that record nothing but have a lens and a blinking LED wouldn't have accomplished the same thing with much less cost?"

I suspect it would.

The reason being is the type of crime being committed.

John you call it "our university computer labs were being consistently vandalized: mostly petty, e.g. coke poured onto the keyboards, balls stolen out of the mice, etc."

Or "petty vandalism", it probably was not "vandalism" at all. I worked at a Uni where there where several labs and yes there was some of this going on.

When we looked into it we found that what the students considered the "better labs" where virtually un-touched. We did a bit of "covert" survalence on the lab getting most abuse to see what was going on.

It quickly became clear it was down to accidents and mindless bordom.

The computers in the lab where often (glacialy) slow and you could see the students sit back and pick up a drink or start fiddeling with a mouse etc.

On reporting the findings the managment decided to put in cameras (apparently cheaper than upgrading the computer network...).

We started to get different behaviour not spilt drinks or mouse balls missing but broken keyboards and damaged cables, and much more rubbish and litter than before.

The keyboards and cables where getting broken by "frustrated behaviour" you could actually see students literaly "pounding the keys" in frustration and yanking the mouse etc around. And importantly they complained much more about the "crap facilities".

All the cameras had done was change the behaviour and it's severity not stopped it.

Oh and the better labs without cameras carried on not needing cameras only more computers as the students went there rather than the "big brother lab" which was rapidly becoming scruffy and very unreliable.

Sometimes you need to ask "why" a problem occurs rather than put in obvious survalence to frighten people, it just adds to the problem.

Some councils in the UK are investigating this by improving the suroundings fixing the pavements putting in seating and good lighting, allowing pavement tables and chairs outside cafes and pubs etc. They still have CCTV but it is much more discreat and blended in with the suroundings.

Some reports indicate they are seeing drops in crime but unlike "just CCTV" it does not appear (yet) as short term in results. Also they are reporting more people being on the streets actualy sitting, shopping etc not hurrying through. Also the amount of litter is down in some areas and the bins are not being set on fire etc.

ShaneFebruary 26, 2010 12:42 PM

@At Home

"It is as if I have to obtain permission every time I go in an out of my own home."

I often find it interesting when people believe that the more they are treated like criminals and malcontents in their daily lives, the safer they somehow become.

I also find it terribly amusing, albeit tragic, that so many Republicant's and right-wingers (in the US) whine constantly about the 'size of government', yet consistently tout unprecedented data monitoring/collection and surveillance as the panacea to all our fears.

Don't get me wrong though, the Democratrons are just as bad. They just give the public a little more credit by being fairly honest about it.

Anon.February 26, 2010 1:59 PM

@Clive:
> Would you care to back up any of your
> statments with even UK Gov figures?

"Cameras can help solve crimes" - "surveillance footage is used as evidence in convictions" - what's to back up? Both are trivially obvious. My point was intended to be mainly that despite what is *said* about the reason for cameras, the reality is that their use comes after the fact.

Should cameras replace traditional investigation, or substitute for officers on the street? Absolutely not. Is the expense justifiable given the lackluster performance? So far, it seems not. But just because London and a bunch of other places bungled their implementations doesn't mean the whole idea is worthless.

Also worth consideration... It may be that suicidal terrorists and possibly-state-sponsored assassins don't feel the need to conceal their identities because the cloaking attempt itself might draw attention - and being held accountable for their actions is essentially a non-issue.

KaszetaFebruary 26, 2010 2:01 PM

@Tim "computer vision techniques aren't too far from being able to automatically track people across a camera network"? They are here. I've actually written software for doing this for several clients, including the US Coast Guard, the Navy, the Department of Homeland Security, and DARPA.

derfFebruary 26, 2010 3:13 PM

"Cameras aren't completely ineffective, of course. ... Combined with adequate lighting, they substantially reduce both personal attacks and auto-related crime in multistory parking garages."

How much crime would be deterred by the lighting alone? Is the cost for the camera hardware, software storage, maintenance, security personnel to watch the cameras, and privacy violations worth the additional crime reduction (if any) of lights alone?

MiceFebruary 26, 2010 4:05 PM

> balls stolen out of the mice

Wow. Even if I felt really enraged, I wouldn't go to the extremes of catching mice and emasculating them. That's just mean.

ShaneFebruary 26, 2010 4:47 PM

@Anon.

"what's to back up? Both are trivially obvious"

Hahaha, you can't be serious.

That's rich.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 26, 2010 5:11 PM

@ Anon.,

'"Cameras can help solve crimes" - "surveillance footage is used as evidence in convictions" - what's to back up? Both are trivially obvious.'

Sadly what appears "trivially obvious" in practice is not.

For instance you say,

'Surveillance cameras are useful after crimes have been committed to supply evidence.'

It depends on your definition of "evidence" most CCTV footage is not admisable in UK courts as primary evidence for many reasons. Even as secondary or supporting evidence it is usually only of use to confirm other addmisable evidence.

Thus it is actually of little direct use.

If however you mean "evidence" in a less strict sense that is to provide the police with leads then yes occasionaly it is of use.

Which is what you probably ment with,

'Footage can provide clues that more quickly lead investigators in the right direction before other critical evidence is compromised.'

Usually (in the UK atleast) very little evidence is gathered from your average crime scene in fact you will be lucky if they even dust for prints these days, let alone photograph anything.

Usually the only thing they collect is forign objects that can be clearly identified as having been brought to the scene of the crime (such as dropped tools cloathing or other similar items).

For instance in the case of robbery in a home where the burgler has clearly been consuming food or drinks and have left very clear bite marks or saliva they won't bother with them only clear fingerprints on an otherwise clean (of fingerprints) objects.

It is only in serious crime (by value or violence) or one that is potentialy going to have high press mileage do the generaly put in any real forensic work (and this is becoming less common).

So called "CSI myth" which is well documented is actually hurting trials as juries falsly believe that each and every crime will have unarguable forensic evidence.

The simple fact is there is not the money to gather let alone process forensic evidence from 99% of crime scenes. And way to many "first responders" have the training to preserve crime scenes from contamination. This has actually got worse with the introduction of Community Support Officers (CSO's).

Thus you will find in the UK the police have found CCTV footage to be usefull in around only 1 in 13 cases where it has actualy caught the crime in progress in sufficiently clear detail. In the other 12 they got the same or better evidence faster from more traditional methods.

With regards to,

'In a TV-world, people "understand" CCTV and that kind of evidence resonates with juries - leading to convictions.'

As I noted above (CSI Myth) this actually raises juries expectations way way above what is actually achivable, and when they see grainy footage with light bloom turning people into ghosts because there is no auto iris on the camera they are less than impressed and defense barristers usually have little difficulty convincing a jury that the person in the footage could be one of a thousand others.

Which is why CCTV is generaly only used in court when the identity of the criminal is not in question. Usually to show how calous or ruthless or sensless an attack was or to stop the defence barrister claiming the deffendant was provoked or defending themselves (ie not to show guilt but to get longer sentances on conviction).

As a general rule the low definition of CCTV cameras (~300x400) requires a full on human face to fill about 1/8th of the screen area for reliable identification.

Cleaning the image up is tampering with evidence and it is generaly not allowed for court presentation except within very very strict guidelines.

Also apart from J.Random nutter who takes no precaution to protect her identity most street criminals and burglers wear baggy cloaths with hoods and baseball caps and look down making CCTV effectivly usless even their footwear is often of the wrong size...

It is why I was very very surprised by the Dubi footage by normal CCTV standards it is not just good it's out of this world and the hotel in question must be using the newer generation of digital cameras that effectivly take 20 or so "high res" still photographs each second as opposed to the 1990's CCTV analog low bandwidth therfore low res with no processing.

CliffFebruary 26, 2010 6:35 PM

My gut feeling is to agree 100% with you, Bruce.

However, I am bothered by the complete lack of data supporting your position.

Do you have such data, or is this something your gut tells you is true after a lifetime spent in the security field?

Your well-educated gut feeling is valuable, but data would be more interesting.

DCFebruary 26, 2010 7:56 PM

I have two anecdotes to add here.

A good friend of mine worked as the IT guy in a pet store, mostly things like inventory management, customer tracking for promotions, things like that. This store normally hired college kids to run the POS terminals my friend wrote the code for -- in a college town they are there only when you need them, and cheap to hire. Not all are honest. He put in cameras ostensibly to limit shoplifting, did a nice job with motion triggering to limit the amount of video stored on the ancient servers and so on.
They were really there to watch the till. One temp got caught, red-handed by this. All losses stopped, and the news got out widely. So, that time, it worked. (after all, try shoplifting a 25 pound bag of pet food -- shoplifting wasn't the main problem)

In the other I was recently waiting in the emergency room for a few hours for a critical MRI scan....(a story by itself) and saw the video setup there. Most hospitals here have their own semi-mercenary police. So there were a few monitors, some fancy switching, and since I was designing such a system for casinos at the time for a consulting customer, I got interested, introduced myself, and got a look. (obviously these guys had no clue about security or they wouldn't have let me in)

The system was pretty terrible, by the way, at watching things in the parking lot, as whoever installed it forgot that color cameras don't do low light well. There were cameras everywhere -- even in the bathrooms at this place (recall the recent scandal about the high school laptops?). But what was really stunning is that the guards weren't paying even a little attention -- they were bringing magazines to read and rarely looked up, even at the cameras in the "suicide watch" and "police suspect" rooms.

The video of the parking lot was so bad you couldn't have seen a rape in progress in the lanes between the cars. So I doubt that one was anything but a boondoggle.

Hasn't Bruce said a few times that it's the details that matter in security? A random crypto system isn't often broken by the crypto, but by some other means? I think that may apply here as well.

Bruce SchneierFebruary 26, 2010 8:17 PM

"However, I am bothered by the complete lack of data supporting your position."

My essay has like a gazillion links to papers and studies. How much more data do you want?

Ronald C Krause JrFebruary 27, 2010 12:03 AM

To give more bite to one of the people posting here... The person mentioned the possibilities for tracking people; such as Americans in general.

Actually to a very large extent that's already happening. Anyone here have a cell phone; well guess what- it technically tracks you- and this type of technology is being used in major crime cases on literally a daily basis. -Or for security cameras in general- example casino's- they have had facial recognition for years- and the same tech even exists today for video games.

Another item worth looking into further is rfid tags.

To conclude about the original author; sorry the person is just plain wrong. The facts clearly show London as being a safrer city than just about any other similiar sized city- the facts back it up. It might not prefennt crime all together but it certainly does deter it significantly and when the camera system is done correctly it gets the conviction.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 27, 2010 1:29 AM

@ Ronald C Krause Jr,

"The facts clearly show London as being a safrer city than just about any other similiar sized city- the facts back it up."

You realy will have to provide a citation or five to "the facts" you have seen for that (and please not ony of the pre-olympic puffery we Londoners are forced to endure from the likes of Seb Coe).

"It might not prefennt crime all together but it certainly does deter it significantly"

Again to support that statment you would need to cite longterm studies not the short term studies that as Bruce noted where "Cherry Picked" by those with an agender (usually shoehorning tax money from gullable politicos).

When you look at longterm studies from earlier systems (at or around the time of the start of the "hoody youth culture") all you can say is it caused an initial displacment of crime.

Contary to the recent massaging of crime figures and claims and counter claims by politicos with an axe to grind, the independent generated longterm street crime figures are on the up as is the current short term cycle.

As for,

"and when the camera system is done correctly it gets the conviction."

Sorry no not in the UK as I noted above video footage is usually inaddmisable in court for identification or most other purposes.

It does not "get the conviction" at best it stops the defence barrister arguing a case of "My client was provoked by the victim".

Hey Nony MouseFebruary 27, 2010 2:27 AM

@ Ronald C Krause : Anyone here have a cell phone; well guess what- it technically tracks you

Maybe you should call MrHasselblad in WV.

Doktor JonFebruary 27, 2010 7:08 AM

CCTV works ... CCTV doesn't work ...

So what's the difference? Well apart from five letters, either statement may or may not be correct in the context of a specific installation being used in a particular way for a defined purpose.

Now where the current arguments tend to fall down is on the deeper understanding of "CCTV" and what that actually means.

From my humble perspective, "CCTV" is nothing more than a large bunch of video imaging tools, that can be applied in a myriad different ways, to fulfil one or a number of specific objectives.

Based on perhaps 20+ years of academic research that suggests CCTV is failing to perform a useful function, in all my years of reading and reviewing papers I've yet to find one that is based on anything more than a superficial evaluation of measurable statistics.

In order for CCTV to work effectively, there not only needs to be a thorough understanding of it's objectives and capabilities, but equally an intelligently crafted application of the technology using the most appropriate and affordable techniques, for that given location.

The analogy I most frequently use is based on the premise that if you want to use vehicles for a purpose, make sure you use the right vehicles for the right purpose. There's no practical sense in operating a public transport system using two seater sports cars, anymore than delivering materials to a major building project in the boot of family hatchback's.

Vehicles are statistically proven not to work, if you don't use the correct one for the job.

As it is with CCTV .... you could spend a million on expensive cameras sitting on poles, but no matter how complex or sophisticated the technology, if it's not right for the site, then it's never going to work at anything more than a few percent efficiency.

Now if video surveillance is applied sensibly, taking account of both it's primary and all the various secondary objectives, using the most efficient technology coupled with the most appropriate techniques, and held together with a healthy regard for both capital and operating costs, alongside justifiable concerns over privacy issues, then that's at least half way towards deploying something which is hopefully both useful, acceptable and affordable.

Given that generally speaking "CCTV research" does not go out of it's way to apply any measure of deeper technical insight as to why a particular system has been used in a particular way, it could be argued that whilst the conclusions may prove a point, in reality they don't (if you'll pardon the pun) provide the whole picture.

I've been hugely critical of CCTV for more years than I care to mention, but with over 32 years experience of working in the industry, I also try wherever possible to explain that if used correctly, it can and does provide significant benefits, and dare I say, have the potential for producing measurable reductions in certain categories of crime, but only if the overall strategy (of which CCTV is a key part) is defined and applied appropriately.

CCTV is not a magic bullet, it is very much misunderstood, and regrettably the somewhat superficial way that many people draw inevitable conclusions, does little to expand the wider debate on how future use should be carefully considered and optimised to produce tangible results, that can benefit society as a whole.

As an industry, the application of video surveillance should in future take greater account of purpose and objectives, and be less obsessed with system designs that are based on primarily technology related considerations.

Does CCTV work or does it not? .... the answer is out there!

John CampbellFebruary 27, 2010 8:50 AM

Perhaps one of the main reasons that their is so little traction in recognizing the murder-team has more to do with the fact that the cameras add ten pounds (or more!) to a person being photographed.

I suspect that idea-- "oh, you'll look fatter on camera"-- might get people to object to the cameras more given the way even slight amount of obesity has been demonized.

Douglas KnightFebruary 27, 2010 3:36 PM

The Dubai assassins did too wear hats.

Kevin, Gail, and the man who left with Gail didn't, but everyone else did. The 4 man "execution team" and the first 4 surveillance people in the lobby (including the tennis players) wore baseball caps. The final surveillance pair wore straw hats. Most of the footage is of doors, so maybe the surveillance team didn't wear the caps indoors (indeed, the man with the straw hat takes it off as he enters and there's a better shot of his face than than any other taken at the door), but the tennis players wore baseball caps when they tailed the victim to his room.

(The only other person on tape, Peter, didn't have much of a brim, but he was going to be identified anyhow.)

They didn't wear hats at the mall. The alleged surveyor at the airport wore a baseball cap. But the people at the hotel who were obviously involved mainly wore hats.

Douglas KnightFebruary 27, 2010 3:45 PM

In summary: they didn't care about CCTV and hats much, but if they could throw on a big brim without ruining the costume, they did.

and, as I said on the other thread, it seems to have helped prevent matching CCTV to passports.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 27, 2010 9:59 PM

@ Douglas Knight,

"The Dubai assassins did too wear hats."

I said,

'You note that the Dubi suspects did not where hats and glassess or other items that hide the base facial features that "facial recognition" software is supposed to use.'

Sorry it's only on re-reading it that I see it has come across the wrong way. If you,

s/that/to/

It reads better.

What I was trying to say is that they appeared to wear them more as accecories for effect or casual distraction for human observers rather than facial concealment from CCTV that almost certainly would be recorded (as was the case).

This is unlike our modern "youth culture" "hoodies" who definatly wear baseball caps under sweat hoods and very lose clothes and walk as though "looking at their feet" ie face downwards to conceal their face compleatly from normal "high mount" CCTV. And in some cases are also known to swap "hoodie tops" amongst others in their group several times when out and about along with shoes etc and effect odd strutting, slouching and other exagurated "gaits" and movements.

Further it is odd when you consider that the assasination team where in a part of the world (Gulf states) where more concealing headwear is much more the norm than not.

Thus it appears they did not seem to be concerned about hiding the "base facial" features (ie jaw / ear / nose / cheek / eye relationships) that facial recognition software tends to use.

The question thus arising is it because they did not consider "facial recognition software" in their planning or because they discounted it's use for some reason.

If they discounted it, was it because they have altered their base facial features in some way to negate long term "facial recognition" systems (ie temporary surgical implants of lippids or collagen etc).

If they have altered them then it throws many of the fundemental arguments about "facial recognition software" as a "reliable" "identification" bio-metric out of the window.

Which then raises the question should we be wasting billions world wide on it as a "retro-grade" update to existing poor quality CCTV for "identification" (as opposed to tracking). And worse on unattended "passport control" points.

CraigFebruary 28, 2010 5:09 AM

All security measures help, directly or indirectly, even if it is only in small steps or ways.

As technology improves so will CCTV recognition, so in the short term there may be many shortfalls.

In the long term though the CCTV will gain ground back, as it is tweaked and developed, we just need to look at the improvements to the mobile phone in the last 20 years or so.

CliffFebruary 28, 2010 11:28 AM

Sorry about the comment regarding lack of data. I read the article on the CNN site where it contains 3 links, none particularly interesting.

I missed the sentence in italics at the end that says this:

"The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bruce Schneier. For a version of this article with embedded links to sources, click here"

There you do indeed have links to data...

Kraken BoundFebruary 28, 2010 12:51 PM

The assertion that tax dollars (my wealth/property) should be taken under threat of force by the government (via taxation) to be spent on armed government soldiers (i.e.: police) rather than on cctv technology is a fallacy attempting to solve a fallacy.

The only way to protect citizens in realtime from armed attackers is to insure that those citizens are well armed and well trained so that they can defend themselves and those around them when violent attackers present themselves. Self sufficiency is the only proven human survival system throughout all human history, regardless of what progressive statists would have us believe. This is proven modernly in Israel and in the US States that have adopted constitutional shall-issue rights (Insuring the counties and cities of those states can not take away the natural right of self defense via disarming citizens; which has been proven as a failure in NY, DC, CA and internationally in the UK and Australia).

I personally have very little concern of being victimized by violent criminals (or terrorists) because I am well armed and trained. I consider myself to be a "combat multiplier" in the war on terror; as are all other armed, law abiding citizens. A terrorist with a rifle in a shopping mall is no match when surrounded by well armed citizens in close proximity. During WWII the Japanese senior military commander stated that it would be impossible to invade the US mainland because "there would be a rifle waiting for them behind every blade of grass".

"... To Arms, To Arms..."

ShaneMarch 1, 2010 11:52 AM

@Kraken Bound

"A terrorist with a rifle in a shopping mall is no match when surrounded by well armed citizens in close proximity."

Hrm, I'm just curious where you received your training, because a group of well armed citizens pointing guns at each other with a terrorist in the middle is really not a good tactic, put them in a shopping mall, and it's an even worse tactic.

AndrewMarch 2, 2010 2:48 PM

I am a "heavy user" of CCTV so everything I say on the topic is suspect.

Bruce is correct when he says that CCTV is of very little use for crime prevention, unless it is properly deployed as part of a complex active security system which is consistently monitored. Southland Corp / "7-11" comes to mind, as do most casinos. The key is intervention: PA systems "PUT THAT DOWN AND LEAVE THE STORE!" and rapid reaction which may be guards, police or both. Cameras do not make arrests.

Professionals distinguish between prosecution-quality video (quality, FPS, lighting) and all the rest. Computer-assisted analysis of CCTV is becoming more common and will dramatically change how CCTV is used. _1984_ is now economically feasible.

However CCTV is an immensely powerful tool for security and crime prevention, particularly with respect to avoiding premise liability, investigation of incidents which occur, and keeping the security program itself honest.

The opposite question is: why do corporations consistently put their money where their mouth is and spend a lot of their security budget on camera systems? Because they get something for their money -- which often is other than what they claim they are getting.

mcbMarch 3, 2010 1:20 PM

Rats. I thought it was going to be a photo essay. You know, a montage of security guru Bruce Schneier captured on security cameras as he travels the world. Oh, the irony. Might make a fun contest...or a website even.

Tangerine BlueMarch 6, 2010 10:55 AM

Re: Edited to Add

The first security industry responses were cogent and well written.

But that last one is different, and in so being it becomes the definitive, conclusive rebuttal to Bruce's article. "Francis D'Addario, former security chief for Starbucks" provides a hyper-caffeinated spew of buzz words whipped to fluffy espressionlessness. At upper management levels, such arguments are unassailable by Bruce's relatively weak attacks of fact and reason.

anonymousNovember 16, 2010 2:45 PM

Why are hospitals using security cameras on employees for things other than security reasons. I thought Security cameras where used for the safety of the hospital so if an employee is not an threat to the hospital then why are they being used. I thought that when an manager goes to an security camera looking for an employee that it was an last resort, and that they have to exhaust all other means neccesary before going to an security camera. So the question is are security cameras allowed to be used anything other than security purposes?

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