Living in an Imperial World: Cameras, Cameras Everywhere
And not a pause to think....
Consider the consequences of this story:
A British company has developed a camera that can detect weapons, drugs or explosives hidden under people's clothes from up to 25 meters away in what could be a breakthrough for the security industry.
The T5000 camera, created by a company called ThruVision, uses what it calls "passive imaging technology" to identify objects by the natural electromagnetic rays -- known as Terahertz or T-rays -- that they emit.
The high-powered camera can detect hidden objects from up to 80 feet away and is effective even when people are moving. It does not reveal physical body details and the screening is harmless, the company says.
The technology, which has military and civilian applications and could be used in crowded airports, shopping malls or sporting events, will be unveiled at a scientific development exhibition sponsored by Britain's Home Office on March 12-13...
Think too about this story, from this side of the pond.
You may ask, "Who gives a fig about the installation of government surveillance cameras in slaughterhouses?"
But would the answer to your rhetorical question change if you recalled
- the surveillance cameras in parking lots and street corners?
Researchers and security companies are developing cameras that not only watch the world but also interpret what they see. Soon, some cameras may be able to find unattended bags at airports, guess your height or analyze the way you walk to see if you are hiding something.
Most of the cameras widely used today are used as forensic tools to identify crooks after-the-fact. (Think grainy video on local TV news of convenience store robberies gone wrong.) But the latest breed, known as "intelligent video," could transform cameras from passive observers to eyes with brains, able to detect suspicious behavior and potentially prevent crime before it occurs.
Surveillance cameras are common in many cities, monitoring tough street corners to deter crime, watching over sensitive government buildings and even catching speeders. Cameras are on public buses and in train stations, building lobbies, schools and stores. Most feed video to central control rooms, where they are monitored by security staff.
The innovations could mean fewer people would be needed to watch what they record, and make it easier to install more in public places and private homes.
"Law enforcement people in this country are realizing they can use video surveillance to be in a lot of places at one time," said Roy Bordes, who runs an Orlando-based security consulting company. He also is a council vice president with ASIS International, a Washington-based organization for security officials.
The advancements have already been put to work. For example, cameras in Chicago and Washington can detect gunshots and alert police. Baltimore installed cameras that can play a recorded message and snap pictures of graffiti sprayers or illegal dumpers.
In the commercial market, the gaming industry uses camera systems that can detect facial features, according to Bordes. Casinos use their vast banks of security cameras to hunt cheating gamblers who have been flagged before.
In London, one of the largest users of surveillance, cameras provided key photos of the men who bombed the underground system in July 2005 and four more who failed in a second attempt just days later. But the cameras were only able to help with the investigation, not prevent the attacks.
Companies that make the latest cameras say the systems, if used broadly, could make video surveillance much more powerful. Cameras could monitor airports and ports, help secure homes and watch over vast borders to catch people crossing illegally.
Intelligent surveillance uses computer algorithms to interpret what a camera records. The system can be programmed to look for particular things, like an unattended bag or people walking somewhere they don't belong.
"If you think of the camera as your eye, we are using computer programs as your brain," said Patty Gillespie, branch chief for image processing at the Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, Md. Today, the military funds much of the smart-surveillance research.
At the University of Maryland, engineering professor Rama Chellappa and a team of graduate students have worked on systems that can identify a person's unique gait or analyze the way someone walks to determine if they are a threat.
A camera trained to look for people on a watch list, for example, could combine their unique walk with facial-recognition tools to make an identification. A person carrying a heavy load under a jacket would walk differently than someone unencumbered — which could help identify a person hiding a weapon. The system could even estimate someone's height.
With two cameras and a laptop computer set up in a conference room, Chellappa and a team of graduate students recently demonstrated how intelligent surveillance works.
A student walked into the middle of the room, dropped a laptop case, then walked away. On the laptop screen, a green box popped up around him as he moved into view, then a second focused on the case when it was dropped. After a few seconds, the box around the case went red, signaling an alert.
In another video, a car pulled into a parking lot and the driver got out, a box springing up around him. It moved with the driver as he went from car to car, looking in the windows instead of heading into the building.
In both cases, the camera knew what was normal — the layout of the room with the suspicious bag and the location of the office door and parking spots in the parking lot. Alerts were triggered when the unknown bag was added and when the driver didn't go directly into the building after parking his car.
Similar technology is currently in use by Marines in Iraq and by the subway system in Barcelona, according to ObjectVideo, a Reston, Va., firm that makes surveillance software.
ObjectVideo uses a "tripwire system" that allows users to set up virtual perimeters that are monitored by the cameras. If someone crosses that perimeter, the system picks it up, sends out an alert, and security staff can determine if there is a threat...
- the surveillance cameras in airports?
- the surveillance cameras along California's highways, for example?
- the surveillance cameras in metropolitan New York?
- the surveillance cameras in Chicago?
- the surveillance cameras in Washington DC?
- the surveillance cameras in smalltown America?
BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. -- This snowy village, in the shadow of Fall Mountain and alongside the iced-over Connecticut River, is the kind of place where a little of anything usually suffices. There are just eight full-time police officers on the town's force, two chairs in the barbershop and one screen in the theater.
A little of anything -- except surveillance cameras. Bellows Falls has decided it needs 16 of those.
Using federal grant money, police plan to put up the 24-hour cameras at such spots as intersections, a sewage plant and the town square. All told, this hamlet will have just three fewer police surveillance cameras than the District of Columbia, which has 181 times Bellows Falls's population.
Similar cameras are already up in the Virginia communities of Galax and Tazewell, where police can pan right down Main Street, and in tiny Preston, Md., with two police officers and five police cameras. An interest in public, permanent video surveillance -- as well as the federal dollars to pay for it -- seems to be flowing down to the smallest levels of American law enforcement.
So far, the growth of small-town surveillance camera systems has not received much national notice. But it already seems to be changing the way such Mayberry-size places are policed...
But, despite the popularity of these systems, some critics still question whether they are any good at stopping crimes in progress. In Washington, for instance, the worst offense caught on police cameras so far seems to have been a car break-in -- in 2001.
"Nothing will be happening most of the time. Multiply that by several cameras with nothing happening, all the time. It's very difficult for any human being to be vigilant," said Michael Scott, director of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, which gets federal funding to write guidelines for police procedures.
Small-town surveillance would seem to offer only a whole lot more nothing. Still, some smaller police departments have been drawn in: An informal search turned up 17 with 100 or fewer officers that either had a surveillance system or plans to put one up. All but two of these departments had either created or expanded their system since 2001.
They come as big as the department in Salisbury, Md., with 88 officers, which plans to put up seven cameras this year. The smallest included the Hoopa Valley Tribal Police in Northern California, where the nine-member force often has no officer on duty from 4 to 8 a.m.
In several cases, funding to buy cameras appears to have come from the federal government, either for community policing or homeland security.
On Maryland's Eastern Shore, for example, Ridgely Police Chief Merl Evans got a homeland security grant, funneled through the state, to pay for five cameras apiece in Ridgely, population 1,300, and Preston, population 573. The cameras went up on water towers, at water-treatment plants and in the two small downtowns.
"It was difficult to be able to find something to use the money for," said Evans, who is also temporary chief in Preston. He said because the grants needed to be used on "target hardening" -- protecting infrastructure -- "the cameras fit in real nice."
Spokesmen for the departments of Justice and Homeland Security said they were unable to compile information about how many small-town camera programs the agencies had funded, or how much had been spent...
- or the funding source for all of those cameras?
And besides, it's not like there some big plan to coordinate all of the collected images and other intelligence amongst all of these departments which have received Federal law enforcement/Homeland Security grants.
After all, as the man said - it can't happen here.