EU Surveillance Team: We Need More Surveillance To Justify More Surveillance

from the oh,-look,-a-new-ratchet dept

Whether or not you believe that CCTV surveillance makes the world a safer place, there's a big problem with deploying it more widely: you still need someone to look at that footage and pick out the things of interest, and it's much harder adding new personnel than adding new cameras.

Techdirt has already reported on one attempt to get around this problem, based on smartphones and crowdsourcing. The other obvious approach is to automate the process. That is, to develop systems that can be trained to analyze CCTV streams -- perhaps in real time -- in order to try to spot activities that look "suspicious" in some sense, which can then be passed on to human operators for further evaluation and possibly action.

That's exactly the aim of the European Commission's INDECT research project -- short for the rather unwieldy "Intelligent information system supporting observation, searching and detection for security of citizens in urban environment." Here's how it describes itself:

The aim of INDECT is to develop a platform for: the registration and exchange of data associated with threat recognition, acquisition of multimedia content, inteligent processing of information related to automatic threat detection and especially terroristic threats as well as recognition of serious criminal behaviour or violence. New techniques for intelligent analysis of data will allow recognizing such situations, and giving alert before it is too late. The obiective is also to recognise danger events that could lead to terrorist attacks (e.g. left luggage at an airport, automatic recognition of dangerous tools). The definitions of situations and their parameters will be provided by police department.
As this makes clear, the emphasis is very much on analyzing data quickly enough to act on it before crimes are committed or attacks are carried out. However, that last sentence about "parameters" being provided by the police will naturally raise concerns that this is simply a chance for the latter to deploy yet more technology in ways that will be harmful to things like privacy and civil liberties.

To its credit, the INDECT project seems well aware that its work raises important ethical questions:

All of the research activities within INDECT project are carried out so as to ensure the appropriate balance between the protection of the rights of the individual and the protection of society. INDECT research project has an Ethics Board, which was established to ensure strict compliance of research outcomes with already established rules concerning privacy, data protection, to ensure genuine informed consent of all those participating in the project, and to ensure that information is only used for its intended research purpose. It is also responsible for managing and monitoring all ethical aspects of the project. These aspects include the promotion of gender equality.
That comes from a page on INDECT's Web site devoted entirely to ethical issues. The closing paragraph of that section is as follows:
The sentence: "if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear" is only true if every aspect of the criminal justice system works perfectly, on every occasion. Tools based on INDECT project research outcomes will provide EU Member States with the technology to ensure that decisions around public safety are based on the maximum amount of relevant information available.
This suggests that the project's participants believe that having even more information available about members of the public is not only justified by the deeply-flawed logic "if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear", but that governments have what amounts to a duty to gather that information in order to make that argument true. It's a wonderfully circular piece of reasoning that totally overlooks the possibility that a better solution might be to gather less information about people in public spaces.

Sadly, it seems that, alongside the copyright ratchet, which only ever allows this intellectual monopoly to get stronger and longer, we now have a surveillance ratchet, which can only envisage large-scale snooping become ever-more pervasive and intrusive.

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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Sneeje (profile), Oct 25th, 2012 @ 5:13am

    Disagree with your last conclusion

    "This suggests that the project's participants believe that having even more information available about members of the public is not only justified by the deeply-flawed logic "if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear", but that governments have what amounts to a duty to gather that information in order to make that argument true."

    I agree that they conclude that *more* information is the solution, but I don't agree that they think "if you've done nothing wrong,..." justifies anything. In fact, they outright agree that it is flawed. Quite frankly that's the first time I've heard any government authority admit that.

    Their logic, as I understand it is, "the justice system will make mistakes, so it's better for it to have the best information available to reduce those mistakes."

    The thing they are missing is that there is no amount of information that can be gathered that will eliminate false positives while maximizing appropriate interdiction. In fact, as has been discussed here ad nauseum, more information can easily lead to MORE false positives, not less.

     

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  2.  
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    The Real Michael, Oct 25th, 2012 @ 5:28am

    They should run an advert on TV with the closing statement:

    "We're the EU government ...and we're WATCHING you."

    That ought to go over well with the public.

     

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  3.  
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    abc gum, Oct 25th, 2012 @ 5:34am

    I suggest the location of the next CCTV cameras to be installed should be in the police stations to monitor the police activities not just in the holding areas but in their offices also. Then, the halls and offices of the politicians would be next. If they have done nothing wrong then they have nothing to hide.

     

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  4.  
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    out_of_the_blue, Oct 25th, 2012 @ 5:45am

    Don't panic! We know from sci-fi movies that this will never work.

    Otherwise, from "Star Trek" to "Alien", CCTV would have been installed, with computer monitoring, and frequent great help, if not total avoidance of dangers. And of course, evil-doers will never bother with it on their fancy new Death Stars, as they're required* to be oblivious to heroes sneaking around.


    * You know, I tried to come up with some reason, however feeble, why the bad guys are always lax on security, and it's just lazy and lousy unrealistic writing.

     

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  5.  
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    themusicgod1, Oct 25th, 2012 @ 5:50am

    Trapwire

    "You still need someone to look at that footage and pick out the things of interest, and it's much harder adding new personnel than adding new cameras."



    Not anymore. Since the advent of Trapwire and advanced facial recognition, we have entered the age of automated, intelligent monitoring of CCTV cameras, where you do not need as much personnel to monitor a greater number of cameras.

     

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  6.  
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    DreamingGiraffe (profile), Oct 25th, 2012 @ 5:52am

    It's so unfortunate that instead of spending all that energy, time, money and technology on spying on people in the hope of maybe figuring out who's angry/frustrated/displease enough to act upon their feelings in a way that could hurt a lot of people in the process, they don't spend it on figuring out why people would be angry, frustrated or displeased enough to actually do such a thing. They could then, peraphs, act upon the cause of that frustration instead of the consequence. I guess trying to make everyone happy isn't such a straight forward business model as actually spying on them. What more can we do to make people happy is so much harder to figure out than, what don't we know about others, that they could, maybe, hide, that could, maybe, hurt someone... But all in all, the main thing we seem to ignore, peraphs we want to ignore, is why some people would feel betrayed, revolted, desperate or angry enough to do such things that would warrant any surveillance at all. I'm too much of a dreamer, I guess.

     

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  7.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Oct 25th, 2012 @ 6:08am

    Re: Don't panic! We know from sci-fi movies that this will never work.

    Regarding the standard bad guy security setup, I'd say it's more often 'to allow the movie to keep going' than 'lazy and/or lousy writing'.

    Movie style evil lair security: Hero breaks in, blows up a bunch of stuff(up to and possibly including the Big Bad), gets out, movie continues or ends with the hero victorious.

    Realistic, intelligently designed evil lair: Hero attempts to break in, gets caught at first checkpoint, is either killed or placed in an inescapable situation, movie ends with hero dead or imprisoned.

     

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  8.  
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    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Oct 25th, 2012 @ 6:08am

    They missed the gotcha

    The argument about better information reducing false positives is drastically flawed because it overlooks a large assumption;
    That the laws you are enforcing perfectly with the information are also perfect.

    In a democracy the laws of the land are supposed to reflect the collective morality and best interest of the society to which they apply. For a start, that is itself an assumption that the "average" morality of the society reflects most of the people in it, which is rather tenuous anyway. But even more than that it has been shown countless times that laws are in fact most often created through the will of the most vocal or richest minority of the society whether deliberately or through misguided interpretation of "what is best for society" according to a minority agenda.

    So, if INDECT's mythical nivarna of perfect information and perfect law enforcement were ever achieved what it would do is create the most perfect and totalitarian police state in the history of the world.

     

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  9.  
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    DannyB (profile), Oct 25th, 2012 @ 6:23am

    Re:

    They should run an advert on TV with the closing statement:
    "We're the EU government ...and we're WATCHING you."
    That ought to go over well with the public.

    That's why you need to market it better. Make it more appealing. Give it a friendly name that evokes feelings of protection and benevolence. For example, you could call it "big brother".

    "Hi, we're your big brother, and we're watching you."

    See? It makes me feel safer already.

     

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  10.  
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    Lord Binky, Oct 25th, 2012 @ 6:29am

    You got a researcher in my security team.

    This sounds awfully like a researcher's justification for more research. 'I need to research where I need to research more' Except of course research has intrinsic benefits that surveillance does not. No reason to let reason get in the way a bad idea though.

     

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  11.  
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    DannyB (profile), Oct 25th, 2012 @ 6:34am

    Re: Trapwire

    Yes, you can automate much of the monitoring of surveillance cameras. All it takes for facial recognition is more and more processing power, which is getting cheaper everyday. You can even do some of it offline.

    Even without a human watching you it can be very useful just to have a database of everywhere you have ever been and when, so that when any question about you arises, they can instantly poke into your life.

    Even better, it would be useful (in both a good and bad sense) to have realtime knowledge of where every person is located. ("Computer, where is Barkley?" "In holideck 3.")

    Bad parents could know where their kids are in order to better control their lives. Stalkers would now have better information than Facebook can provide them.

    What we need though is some balance. The East Germans had perfected this before the wall fell. They had half the population employed spying on the other half. Now that's balance. And they had great security. In any police state, you can feel much safer walking a dark alley at 3 AM than you can in many non police states. So it must be a great idea!

     

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  12.  
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    The Real Michael, Oct 25th, 2012 @ 6:39am

    Re: Re:

    Yeah, that's about right.

    All of this PR nonsense from the European Commission is to try and paint a friendly face over something sinister, hence my ironic (truthful) post.

     

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  13.  
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    abc gum, Oct 25th, 2012 @ 6:52am

    With the ever increasing advances in computer generated graphics it is certain that these CCTV recordings will have some additions which were not actually there at the time of recording. Something similar to The Running Man.

     

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  14.  
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    Nathan F (profile), Oct 25th, 2012 @ 6:53am

    Re: Re:

    Not sure that Channel 4 UK would be all that cool with it, after all they have their own "Reality" (and I use that word loosely) TV show called Big Brother.

     

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  15.  
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    Shon Gale (profile), Oct 25th, 2012 @ 6:56am

    The more cameras the bigger my hoodie.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2012 @ 7:11am

    Re: Re: Trapwire

    How often will identification fail completely due to hoods etc. Also what about mistaken identity, identical quads etc.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2012 @ 7:36am

    I thought "person of interest" was a fictional show not a blue print.

     

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  18.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Oct 25th, 2012 @ 7:36am

    Re:

    I stick with a giant fake mustache myself. Perfect for protecting my identity, as well as providing me the ability to twist the tips and laugh maniacally should the need or desire come up.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2012 @ 7:39am

    The sentence: "if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear" is only true if you first assume the privacy is about hiding bad acts.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2012 @ 7:43am

    Off the siong sheet

    Off song .
    Andy Smith, an internet security chief at the Cabinet Office, said people should only give accurate details to trusted sites such as government ones.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2012 @ 8:39am

    Re: Disagree with your last conclusion

    Completely in line with what I thought. I suggest a further addition of another test: "I am not willing to live in a society where it is impossible to get away with murder." That is a fairly common sentence and it adds some debatability to the constant increases in surveillance.

     

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  22.  
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    The Real Michael, Oct 25th, 2012 @ 8:50am

    Re:

    Exactly. The powers-that-be have created the strawman argument that advocating for privacy is an expression of guilt. This puts the public on the defensive while the government proceeds to erode their rights.

    I have the image etched into my mind of the Queen of England standing on the terrace with a smile on her face, holding up an national ID card a couple days after the subway bombings. Can you say "Nazi Germany"?

     

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  23.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Oct 25th, 2012 @ 8:54am

    Re: Disagree with your last conclusion

    I don't agree that they think "if you've done nothing wrong,..." justifies anything. In fact, they outright agree that it is flawed.


    That's not how I read it at all. What I think they're saying is that the reasoning itself is sound, but becomes flawed only because of imperfections in the system -- that if everything was working perfectly then you really would have nothing to fear.

    I think this is very, very wrong. I think that people who behave perfectly all the time, in a system that is functioning perfectly, still have reason to fear ubiquitous surveillance.

     

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  24.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Oct 25th, 2012 @ 9:02am

    Re: Re: Re: Trapwire

    All of these are huge issues. In terms of accuracy, dace recognition is perhaps the second-worst form of biometric identification (voice recognition is the worst).

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2012 @ 9:13am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Trapwire

    Especially as dace swim in water!

     

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  26.  
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    Lord Binky, Oct 25th, 2012 @ 9:34am

    Re: Re:

    LEDs in the hood's edge to saturate the camera's limited contrast and obscure your face if you even look at the camera directly.

     

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  27.  
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    Sneeje (profile), Oct 25th, 2012 @ 9:34am

    Re: Re: Disagree with your last conclusion

    I see the nuance now.

    And of course part of their flawed logic is that either perfect information or a perfect system are achievable. Plus, to your point, even if false positives are eliminated the mere existence of the information can invite abuse.

     

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  28.  
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    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Oct 25th, 2012 @ 9:50am

    Re: Re: Re: Disagree with your last conclusion

    My take was the same as JF's and to my mind there's another, possibly bigger, flaw than the one you mention as I said here

     

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  29.  
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    Bruce Partington, Oct 25th, 2012 @ 10:11am

    Another case of pre-crime

    If they're able to catch the crime before it happens, what crime will they charge the accused with? Considering committing a crime? Looking "furtive"?

     

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  30.  
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    LaserShark, Oct 25th, 2012 @ 10:34am

    Re: Disagree with your last conclusion

    The way I read it, they say that 'if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear' is only true when the criminal justice system works perfectly in every aspect on every level, and that surveillance forms part of that system, therefore surveillance needs to be 'perfect' so that 'if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear' becomes true.

    In other words, they seem to be implying that we need more surveillance coverage and analysis to make the system 'perfect.' They also seem to be stating that once our surveillance becomes 'perfect,' innocent citizens will no longer have anything to fear from surveillance.

     

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  31.  
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    Rikuo (profile), Oct 25th, 2012 @ 11:40am

    Re: Off the siong sheet

    "people should only give accurate details to trusted sites such as government ones."

    One problem with that - very few people trust the government. I gave false information on the last census. I sure as hell will give false information to government websites. There have been far too many incidences of government agencies losing information (such as by leaving a laptop on a train).

     

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  32.  
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    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Oct 25th, 2012 @ 1:17pm

    Re: Another case of pre-crime

    If they're able to catch the crime before it happens, what crime will they charge the accused with? Considering committing a crime? Looking "furtive"?
    Ah.. there I think you miss the segue. Look closely enough at the overreaching and especially vague laws already in effect and you're likely to find you're already breaking some laws. With the mythical "perfect information" they can then simply arrest you for whatever minor laws you may have broken that they have so far ignored as soon as they begin to suspect you may do something they don't like.

     

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  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2012 @ 3:08pm

    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. The government will misuse it.
    So total knowledge will make us perfectly safe.

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2012 @ 7:29pm

    "The aim of INDECT is to develop a platform for: the registration and exchange of data associated with threat recognition, acquisition of multimedia content, inteligent processing of information related to automatic threat detection and especially terroristic threats as well as recognition of serious criminal behaviour or violence."

    They spelled intelligent wrong.

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 19th, 2013 @ 11:28am

    Have you tried this site? http://hdsecuritystore.com

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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