Videos From Wearable Cameras Contain Natural Biometric Markers That Can Eliminate Anonymity

from the motion-pictures dept

Video evidence figures quite frequently here on Techdirt, because moving pictures of incidents are generally compelling and incontrovertible. That’s true even if they are released anonymously to protect the person recording the event from retribution. But new research suggests that videos from wearable cameras have embedded within them natural biometric markers (via New Scientist):

Egocentric cameras are being worn by an increasing number of users, among them many security forces worldwide. GoPro cameras already penetrated the mass market, and Google Glass may follow soon. As head-worn cameras do not capture the face and body of the wearer, it may seem that the anonymity of the wearer can be preserved even when the video is publicly distributed. We show that motion features in egocentric video provide biometric information, and the identity of the user can be determined quite reliably from a few seconds of video.

The paper describing the work also points out some consequences of this result:

Egocentric video biometrics can prevent theft of wearable cameras by locking the camera when worn by people other than the owner. In video sharing services, this Biometric measure can help to locate automatically all videos shot by the same user. An important message in this paper is that people should be aware that sharing egocentric video will compromise their anonymity.

On the plus side, this also means that videos from police body-cameras can also be tied to particular officers, which may help to make such evidence less vulnerable to tampering.

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Comments on “Videos From Wearable Cameras Contain Natural Biometric Markers That Can Eliminate Anonymity”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Indeed. And the longer it goes on, the more it will require a liberty equivalent to Malcolm X, or a Washington; a person who isn’t very nice or well-bahaved int he eyes of the law, but can apply reasonable violence, when needed, to push people to the negotiating table.

Note that the last time this failed to happen was 9/11, and we all know what happened there.

Anonymous Coward says:

the real issue is that if cops didn’t act in the way that they do (and it is getting worse on a daily basis!), maiming and killing folks for doing absolutely nothing at all, certainly doing nothing that deserved being shot down in cold blood, choked to death or whatever, there would be no call, no need to wear the body cams in the first place! it’s the disgraceful behavior of some members of the various ‘Law Enforcements’ that has brought this about, so now they have to put up with it!

Anonymous Coward says:

Tamper resistance

On the plus side, this also means that videos from police body-cameras can also be tied to particular officers, which may help to make such evidence less vulnerable to tampering.

I disagree. This is unlikely to prevent tampering, because the most common forms of tampering are “failure to record” important events and after-the-fact alignment of officer’s reports with exactly what was (and wasn’t) captured on video.

Deleting a section of important event is a very simple form of tampering, and can be proved simply by the absence of video that logically should be available. Proving that the video was not created (despite a policy that it should be) or proving that the video was created and then deleted can be done, but is not done like this. Further complicating the problem, there are legitimate (though often improbable) circumstances where no video is created, but the officer is absolutely blameless in the failure to record. Thus, we cannot use the absence of video as conclusive evidence of officer misconduct.

After-the-fact reviews aren’t about tampering with the video at all, but rather about conforming the officer’s sworn report to whatever the video will support. If the video clearly shows the citizen is unarmed, the officer’s report will avoid directly saying the citizen as armed, but may instead phrase the problem as being that the citizen “moved in a threatening manner” or “moved in a way that implied he had a weapon.” If the camera captures video without audio, the report could characterize the escalation as being driven by verbal threats.

Body cameras are great for proving the most gross forms of abuse, such as unjustified officer brutality against an arrestee. They are considerably less effective when the officer can reasonably claim that the video is misleading or that the situation moved too rapidly for the officer to make the same judgements made by viewers, who necessarily watch from safety and enjoy the ability to freeze individual frames and revisit specific sections of the video.

Also, as others point out, we are increasingly seeing that direct video evidence of officer-involved homicide neither prevents such homicides nor guarantees an impartial investigation.

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