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April 15, 2009 4:14 PM   Subscribe

BigBrotherFilter: Estimates place the number of CCTV cameras in the UK at 4.2 million, but how can these images all possibly be watched? Researches in Turkey have an answer: an eye-gaze tracking system placed on the CCTV operators themselves which can "then automatically produces a summary of the CCTV video sequences they have missed during their shift".

From NewScientist article.

"This increases the reliability of the surveillance system by giving a second chance to the operator."

The system uses webcam-style cameras trained on the irises of the CCTV operators. From this, software works out where the operators are looking as they stare at each monitor - and the areas they have not been paying attention to. From this it creates a video of what they missed, for them and their bosses to watch at the end of their shift.

To make sure the summary can be watched as quickly as possible, Vural and Akgul have developed an algorithm that discards frames that show only the background with no people or moving vehicles in them, to leave only a few key frames for each scene of interest. Vural says the system runs on a standard PC and processes the images in real time, so the summary frames are ready to browse, like a fast-motion flip book, at the end of the shift.
posted by tybeet (32 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
but who will watch the watcher watchers?
posted by allen.spaulding at 4:15 PM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Quis custodiet ipsos custodes-filter
posted by Spacelegoman at 4:16 PM on April 15, 2009


Yo dawg, we heard you like spying on civilians.
posted by arcanecrowbar at 4:20 PM on April 15, 2009 [11 favorites]


Estimates place the number of CCTV cameras in the UK at 4.2 million...

Did you actually read that first link? It shows pretty clearly what many of us in the UK already know: just like the 'bad teeth', '4.2 million CCTV cameras' is a poor poor poor "fact".
posted by Sova at 4:24 PM on April 15, 2009


Did you actually read that first link? It shows pretty clearly what many of us in the UK already know: just like the 'bad teeth', '4.2 million CCTV cameras' is a poor poor poor "fact".

Yes I read the link. And the author's conclusion is this:

"So it doesn't necessarily contradict the 4.2 million figure, or support it - we're back to the original problem of just not having enough evidence available.

The Putney guesstimate is our current best-guess figure of the number of CCTV cameras - or the number in two London streets several years ago, at least."
posted by tybeet at 4:27 PM on April 15, 2009


Oh, and as for who watches these damn videos: they don't. Most systems as 'passive' in that the tapes are only reviewed if/when needed. As somebody who has been in 'control' of a system like that, changing the tape every morning is about as close I came to paying it any attention.
posted by Sova at 4:29 PM on April 15, 2009


Yes I read the link. And the author's conclusion is this:

"So it doesn't necessarily contradict the 4.2 million figure, or support it - we're back to the original problem of just not having enough evidence available.

The Putney guesstimate is our current best-guess figure of the number of CCTV cameras - or the number in two London streets several years ago, at least."


From the article:

FactCheck rating: 4

(high because it's a virtually-impossible-to-verify figure, rather than necessarily being wrong)

The lower end of the scale indicates that the claim in question largely checks out, while the upper end of the scale suggests misrepresentation, exaggeration, a massaging of statistics and/or language.


What they're basically saying is, 'we can't say it's wrong because we don't know, but it is as dubious as a penguin in a spacesuit'.
posted by Sova at 4:32 PM on April 15, 2009


And what's the complaint about the second link? That they'll be spying on the populace more effectively? Isn't the problem that the cameras exist at all and not that people would be able to find the wheat from the chaff?

And anyway, isn't this using an mostly unrelated preliminary experimentation, one with little shown results in a real setting, to drum up outrage against the subject?

Again and again, the people that make the arguments I agree with do so in ways that I disagree with.
posted by zabuni at 4:32 PM on April 15, 2009


so we put a camera on your camera...?
posted by lyam at 4:34 PM on April 15, 2009


FactCheck rating: 4

(high because it's a virtually-impossible-to-verify figure, rather than necessarily being wrong)


The entire point of the first article is to verify whether it is a hard-line fact, not whether it is close to the truth. Read that again: The number does not denote its truth or falsity but its verifiability. They have given it a "poor" rating because they were unable to verify it, not because it is untrue.

And anyway, this is why I noted it as an "estimate" and not a "fact".
posted by tybeet at 4:37 PM on April 15, 2009


To complete the xhibitism:

Yo dawg, we heard you like spying on civilians so we put cameras on your spies so you can spy while you spy.
posted by GuyZero at 4:40 PM on April 15, 2009


The entire point of the first article is to verify whether it is a hard-line fact, not whether it is close to the truth. Read that again: The number does not denote its truth or falsity but its verifiability. They have given it a "poor" rating because they were unable to verify it, not because it is untrue.

No, the article is about its truth or falsehood. They gave it a 4 because they can't verify it as wrong, but they obviously suspect it is.

And anyway, this is why I noted it as an "estimate" and not a "fact".

Why did you include it at all? The article in the New Scientist is about operator CCTV, and the estimate includes all CCTV cameras. A fairly small number of the CCTV cameras can count as operated.
posted by Sova at 4:43 PM on April 15, 2009


Well, so people can be all OH NOES THE CAMERAS IT IS JUST LIKE 1984 WIBBLE WIBBLE WIBBLE WIBBLE obviously.
posted by Artw at 4:45 PM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


...and that was annoying even before I saw the title.
posted by Artw at 4:47 PM on April 15, 2009


They have all these CCTV cameras and they still had "no" footage of either the de Menezes killing or the attacks on Ian Tomlinson. The system seems to have a blindspot alright. Police misconduct.

and misconduct is about the mildest word I could use there.
posted by knapah at 4:48 PM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you want something real to get upset about here's more video from G20.
posted by Artw at 4:52 PM on April 15, 2009


Aaaand security theater finally morphs into the scene demonstrating the Ludovico Technique in A Clockwork Orange.
posted by adipocere at 4:52 PM on April 15, 2009


I was doing a security audit on a call center in Mexico; they had about a dozen cameras on the facility with a 24 hour guard. There was another camera on the guard, which went to a separate recorder in the site manager's office. Now I know what to demand when I re-audit them!
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 4:59 PM on April 15, 2009


OH NOES THE CAMERAS IT IS JUST LIKE 1984 WIBBLE WIBBLE WIBBLE WIBBLE!!!

(Artw was right!)
posted by yoink at 5:11 PM on April 15, 2009


Artw: Yes, notably most of those are not from CCTV but from private citizens or the media. Practically all CCTV seems to be used for is providing comedic footage for late night digital TV channel "Booze Britain"-style shows.

Suffice to say I'm rather unconvinced by its value. If they have to have it, it should be publicly accessible and not kept hidden when it doesn't help the decided upon narrative.
posted by knapah at 5:12 PM on April 15, 2009


So we don't know how many security cameras are out there in the UK? I feel safer already.

Adding to knapah comment above, let's look at the location in which some footage about alleged police miscounduit was shot (as per Artw link to The Guardian article) :

1 April, 3.29pm, near Bank, City of London
1 April, 7.15pm, Royal Exchange Passage, near Bank of England
1 April, 7.16pm, Threadneedle Street, near Royal Exchange
April, 7.40pm, Bishopsgate, just south of Liverpool Street station
2 April, 4.39pm, Threadneedle Street, near the Bank of England
2 April, 2.30pm, by the Bank of England

Now, I don't have info about any active cameras around these locations, but I have an hard time believing there's no police camera around the Bank of England or that they weren't active during a protest.

Afaik the Bank of England is in The City, in which more or less 200 camers are active. But where exactly?
posted by elpapacito at 5:26 PM on April 15, 2009


I think the interesting thing here is not the Orwellian implications of filming people who monitor CCTV, but that these guys are falling into the same problems that the NSA has been plagued with: The brute force gathering of massive amounts of electronic intelligence results in a pile of data that quickly outstrips the ability of any group of people to make sense of it. Machines can collect, process, and to some extent interperet information, but there have to be human eyes on some subset of the data in order to make sense of it, and at a certain point there's just too much stuff to sift through. It's of a piece with the silliness that has taken over our (U.S.) airports.
posted by arcanecrowbar at 6:13 PM on April 15, 2009


New Scientist link: Vural and Akgul have developed an algorithm that discards frames that show only the background with no people or moving vehicles in them, to leave only a few key frames for each scene of interest.

Ah HA! So the pieces are all finally falling into place...

My plan to use trained sloths to steal the Cyrus Cylinder from the British Museum is at long last about to come to fruition.
posted by koeselitz at 6:40 PM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wibble Wibble. defn
posted by lalochezia at 7:05 PM on April 15, 2009


And anyway, this is why I noted it as an "estimate" and not a "fact".

I wonder why you didn't go with the following estimate then:
Its director, Peter Fry, reckons there are around a million, and probably no more than 1.25 million, "public" cameras. But he cautions that, although based on his pretty extensive databases, this isn't "much more than a guesstimate".
Basically, the study seems to me to be EXTREMELY SHODDY. I absolutely don't see how you can ever extrapolate numbers from two densely packed London streets to the whole country; surely, shops in the rural hinterland would have different security concerns and wouldn't be as dependent on technology as the ones studied?

I'm not pro-security-cams by any means, merely anti-bad stats.
posted by the cydonian at 7:13 PM on April 15, 2009


As far as figures go, doing a quick count off the top of my head my local high street has at least 10 public CCTV cameras (one of which that has a cycle that includes my flats front windows). Add to these public cameras the majority of all shops on and off the high street, multistory car parks, pubs, all government and council buildings, post offices, shopping precincts (etc.) having some kind of CCTV system installed and I think the estimate of 4.2M cameras in Britain looks a little thin actually. Let us not forget how old the figures we are dealing with are (despite the dubious means of calculation).

As for these cameras having blind spots, I would further say that their blind spots seem to extend to preventing crime or protecting the public from violent crime. If you have ever tried to get police to retrieve camera footage to help solve a crime against your person or property, you will probably know that the cameras are really not for the benefit of Joe Bloggs, in all but the most extreme (and high profile) cases, but more for the benefit of the establishment that maintains the cameras (private or state).

I would lean towards refuting claims of wibble. The continuing emergence of an 'Orwellian style' state is not something that can honestly be overlooked by any (even slightly) objective individual. If this state of affairs was presented to us 10 or 15 years ago instead of being implemented incrementally, as it has been, we definitely would not have been so tolerant of, or complacent about, the situation of being constantly observed.

Consider how farcical this has actually become. We are now talking about watching the watchers, watching the watched?! This being the case I wouldn't be surprised if I woke up as a giant bug tomorrow and had rather a difficult time of it!

I think the heart of this ongoing debate lies primarily with defining human rights and the boundaries of government. Can we have a thread about that?

Thank god for the DPA, its a great piece of legislation and people in Britain need to be more aware of it and how it applies to them on, what is now, a daily basis!
Use it but don't abuse it!
posted by Don't_deceive_with_belief at 8:30 PM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


As far as figures go, doing a quick count off the top of my head my local high street has at least 10 public CCTV cameras (one of which that has a cycle that includes my flats front windows). Add to these public cameras the majority of all shops on and off the high street, multistory car parks, pubs, all government and council buildings, post offices, shopping precincts (etc.) having some kind of CCTV system installed and I think the estimate of 4.2M cameras in Britain looks a little thin actually. Let us not forget how old the figures we are dealing with are (despite the dubious means of calculation).


Agreed. Two cameras per lift in my tube station, plus many more on platforms and corridors. 12-14 cameras per bus (the newer buses have screens so you can watch the cameras yourself. I've counted between 12 and 14).
posted by Infinite Jest at 11:30 PM on April 15, 2009


A bus driver friend tells me they keep the tapes from the on board cameras for 3 weeks. And that they record sound too...
posted by the cuban at 4:25 AM on April 16, 2009


Turkey is now like that kid in school who always made it a point to remind the teacher whenever she forgot to assign homework.

Turkey: The Martin Prince of countries.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:19 AM on April 16, 2009


In other (unsurprising) surveillance news: Officials Say U.S. Wiretaps Exceeded Law
posted by homunculus at 3:44 PM on April 16, 2009


Would cataloguing the cameras be legal?
posted by Pronoiac at 1:04 AM on April 17, 2009


Jacqui Smith's secret plan to carry on snooping
posted by homunculus at 9:05 AM on May 3, 2009


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