Video Surveillance by Computer

The ACLU’s Jay Stanley has just published a fantastic report: “The Dawn of Robot Surveillance” (blog post here) Basically, it lays out a future of ubiquitous video cameras watched by increasingly sophisticated video analytics software, and discusses the potential harms to society.

I’m not going to excerpt a piece, because you really need to read the whole thing.

Posted on June 14, 2019 at 6:28 AM9 Comments


needmorename June 14, 2019 7:47 AM

Reminds me of the localizers concept in Vernor Vinge’s ‘A Deepness in the Sky.”

Anomalous Cowherd June 14, 2019 8:41 AM

With the availability of analytics software (and nearly unlimited storage, too), any camera becomes a threat.

It’s time for a norm, preferably legally enforced, that no camera may be pointed at any area where the public is invited or expected, unless that camera has an immediate human “supervisor”. Yes, that means tearing down a lot of existing cameras. They’re now hazards in a way that they weren’t when they started to go up.

It’s also time for the security community to be working on countermeasures.

Personally, I am willing to consider destructive countermeasures, and, yes, I understand that that’s currently illegal.

Anomalous Cowherd June 14, 2019 8:44 AM

Oh, and for clarity, “human supervisor” means somebody who’s visibly there in the same area as the camera and in a position to see what it sees using bare eyes.

Sok Puppette June 14, 2019 9:02 AM

It’s time for a norm, preferably legally enforced, that no camera may be pointed at any area where the public is invited or expected, unless that camera has an immediate human “supervisor”.

Who would count as a supervisor, and how would that help?

So just having any employee in some giant semi-public space, no matter how distracted or busy with other things, would allow you to have a bunch of cameras? And the camera can do things the human can’t. A random guard or clerk can’t mentally match your face against a database of half a billion people.

I think you have to go beyond that kind of simplistic rule. Notice that I’m not saying you should be less restrictive, though. Maybe even more restrictive at least in many ways.

Petre Peter June 14, 2019 11:37 AM

Excellent paper.

It’s become cheap to gather video of us, but remains expensive to monitor or analyze that data.

Surveillence has always been a service, understanding the objects and their actions in the capture will be another service which I too believe will become as cheap as collecting it simply because we’ve been labeling videos on Youtube and Facebook for about 2 decades and those labeled videos will be used to train AIs.

Driving the adoption of video analytics is the enormous recent progress in the area loosely called artificial intelligence, or AI.

I am not seeing this enormous progress. Inside Harvard MBTA station I see human operators in a room with no windows pretending to look at a bunch of LCD screens while peeking at their mobile phones. Also what about police reports? Shouldn’t that be automated as well? Should affective computing be applied to police officers when they arrest someone so that we can ensure that emotion didn’t cloud their judgment? It’s not surveillance that scares me but mass surveillance and the paper makes it pretty clear that we should fight against mass surveillance. – Rewinding the past to look ahead gives us a life with a police cruiser always behind us and that feeling is not pleasant. Mind-reading through video cameras is never going to be possible.

Otter June 14, 2019 12:57 PM

You are walking home after a long day at the shop. It is a beautiful sunny evening. You detour through the park. You note with approval the new modern cameras, which seem to have scared the druggies and beggars away. The year before last you and your neighbours decided it was no longer safe to let your kids play here. You organized protests to make the authorities install cameras. Now the happy shouts feel satisfying. A few minutes later, a huge fireball erupts on the path where you were ambling along. Somewhere an AI decided you look a lot like a rocket scientist whom its owner dislikes. It also eliminates a bunch of terrorists who were playing on the swings nearby.

You stop at the campus sushi shop on the way home. Same as yesterday, and the day before. You have been studying all week. Tomorrow is your last exam, then you’re out of here. You wonder briefly why all the cameras seem to be watching you. But, no, it must have been your imagination. It used to be pretty rowdy in here, before the cameras were installed. And sometimes the creeps got too personal. A little later, as you turn the corner to your street, some guys are trying to load a big sofa into a small van. They put it down and grin as you pass. Then somebody grabs your arm and throws you into the van. A heavy bag is pulled down over your head. Yesterday, an AI noticed you. Stored some stills and videos in an obscure database. Followed you home. Somebody liked what he saw. You are out of here.

Governments and corporations.
Other governments and other corporations.

Stalkers and swatters will get into this, too.
Script-stalkers and script-swatters.

Erdem Memisyazici June 14, 2019 10:01 PM

Secretly doing this is even worse than publicly doing it. As I have experienced the nightmare of being caught up in the gears of a similar system, all people do after drugging and interrogating you not letting you record any of the incident, is to try to force you to forget about ever meeting any of the security personel. Literally the best way to run a cult. Imagine being in that security team. You are never alone (step 1). Only your team has privileged access to “the mark’s” private life (step 2). You are able to see what they see, learn all their phobias, their daily worries, their interests, you can literally play them like a Sims character (step 3). Let’s ask Philip Zimbardo what happens in time when such scenarios are constructed in the name of security. Why is it worse? Because the construct also controls all the evidence. Target complains? Shut them out. In fact, continue to harass them because now they are a liability. Maybe you get catch them driving home after a couple beers one night. Victim goes to jail, problem solved. Pakleds.

Erdem Memisyazici June 14, 2019 10:05 PM

Furthermore please don’t tell me surveillence technology is impossible to control. Why don’t we have cellphone jammers? Because they are banned by policy. Nightmare scenarios as described by the ACLU paper can easily be detected and controlled as such.

Trung Doan June 15, 2019 9:17 AM

I’ll try giving an excerpt:

“AI agents..will usher in something entirely new in the history of humanity: a society where everyone is watched.
This is an extremely consequential change.”

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