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More Surveillance Cams in NYC
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Mon, 24 Apr 2006 19:43:49 -0400

Begin forwarded message:

From: Elaine Newton <enewton () cmu edu>
Date: April 24, 2006 6:16:45 PM EDT
To: ip () v2 listbox com, dave () farber net
Subject: More Surveillance Cams in NYC

For IP if you wish...

The New York Times

April 23, 2006 Sunday
  Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section 4; Column 1; Week in Review Desk; IDEAS & TRENDS; Pg. 14

HEADLINE: The Camera Never Blinks, but It Multiplies



IT'S spring, and a new crop of police surveillance cameras is sprouting in cities big and small. New York is installing 500 on street corners; Chicago is upgrading several thousand; and even the city of Dillingham, Alaska, has 80 --
one for every 30 residents.

Many of these newer cameras can pan, tilt and zoom, and are networked through the Internet, so video images can be viewed and stored centrally. They
are often purchased with homeland security funds, meant for use against
terrorism as well as street crime.

But it is impossible for a police department to continuously monitor 2,000, 500 or even, in the case of Dillingham, 80 cameras. So other than producing mountains of visual data -- and raising the inevitable questions of privacy --
how useful are they?

Law enforcement officials argue that just putting up a camera in plain sight can deter crime. And some see a future in which software will analyze video for possible signs of terrorist activity, like someone placing a suitcase
in front of a building.

''We have seen significant dividends as a result of implementing this program,'' said Andrew Velasquez III, director of the Office of Emergency Management and Communications in Chicago. Drug trafficking has been reduced in areas where cameras have been installed, he said. And the city is starting a
pilot program to see whether automated analysis can be effective.

But some security experts say the cameras are of limited value -- largely
in helping investigators after a crime -- and are not cost-effective.
They point
to a large study by the Home Office in Britain, which has perhaps the world's most videotaped population, that found cameras to be ineffective in reducing
crime, except in locations like parking garages. And even scientists
involved in
the development of visual recognition software acknowledge that the programs do
not work well enough yet.

''Cameras make people feel better,'' said Bruce Schneier, an expert on security technology and the author of ''Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World.'' ''But they really don't make sense. At best
they move crime around a little bit.''

For a business, a camera that makes crime go elsewhere might be valuable, Mr. Schneier said. ''If I put a camera in my store and the mugger goes to the
store next door, that's a win for me,'' he said.

But for a city, moving criminals to the next camera-less block doesn't reduce crime. And for the nation as a whole, moving terrorists from one city to another that has less surveillance doesn't make sense either. ''Why would I
spend millions of dollars to move terrorism around?'' he said.

      Paul Browne, a deputy police commissioner in New York, said that
so far the
department had installed 52 cameras, clearly marked as police equipment, in areas that had seen spikes in crime. Once more policing has stabilized the situation, Mr. Browne said, ''cameras can be helpful in preventing a return of

But Scott Henson, director of the police accountability project of the Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said cameras can skew how
limited police resources are allocated. If cameras are monitored by
officers, he
said, ''resources are more likely to be dispatched to places where
cameras are.'

''It lets technology usurp the role of police management,'' he added.

Often, however, no one is actually watching the cameras. Officials in
Dillingham admit this on the town's Web site, and Mr. Velasquez
acknowledges it,
too. ''We know we are going to have monitoring challenges,'' he said.

Chicago is beginning a trial project using software that will sift through thousands of hours of video, trying to recognize unusual behavior, like leaving
behind a suitcase.

Such software is largely unproven, noted Elaine Newton, a fellow at the
Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society. ''These things
are going to
have error rates,'' she said.

Face recognition and other biometric applications are particularly difficult, and often the results depend on the quality of the image or the lighting. ''Typically surveillance cameras are pretty low quality,'' she said. And they are often exposed to heat, which degrades image quality even more.

      As a result, Ms. Newton said, ''real-time analysis of lots of
cameras isn't
something that's going to be invested in.'' Instead, the analysis may become
more selective.

For instance, she said, surveillance images can be used to compile gross statistics, like numbers of people coming into an area at a given time. Or software might be used for simpler recognition tasks, like distinguishing one
kind of vehicle from another.

''They're probably going to do things that are intelligent uses of data,'' Ms. Newton said. ''It really depends on what somebody is trying to get out of

GRAPHIC: Photos: Street Scenes -- Public and private security cameras
record the
action in Midtown Manhattan. (Photographs by Tony Cenicola/The New York Times)

Lauren Gelman
Center for Internet and Society
Stanford Law School
(ph) 650-724-3358

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