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How intelligent CCTV technology could help catch and bring rioters to justice in the future

18 August 2011 Kingston University

Techniques being developed by experts at Kingston University, London, could play a leading role in helping to bring rioters and looters to justice in the future. Experts from the University’s Digital Imaging Research Centre, with internationally-recognised expertise in visual surveillance, are currently working on a project to help police and security staff analyse CCTV footage of incidents in town centres more speedily.

“We plan to develop components to automatically analyse multi-camera networks and footage before and after a trigger incident, such as a riot or fight, to produce a set of video segments relevant to a potential police investigation,” Dr James Orwell explained. “For example, if a window was smashed and shop looted on a town centre street, the technology being developed would be able to trace back to see who smashed the window and then retrace his steps to see when and where he entered the town centre. The technology would also trace where the man had gone after leaving the scene so, for example, if they were wearing a mask or a hoodie during the incident but let their guard down and removed this later after leaving the scene, it could help police to identify them.

“A simple intruder-detection system could trigger the identification of all video data containing other observations of the intruder. This data could then be isolated into a secure archive, leaving everything else to be safely deleted.”

The project will devise techniques to automatically delete certain recorded data while information which is relevant from a security perspective will be retained. This will limit unnecessary data storage, protecting a citizens’ rights to privacy, and make potentially important CCTV footage available to police, reducing the need to scour hours and hours of footage.

The research will devise technology to address two current problems with video surveillance: what should be archived and who should be able to access this data. The research team will develop technology to identify when a potential incident occurs such as a riot, fight, loitering, suspicious behaviour around a shop or cash machine or left luggage in a public place which would be known as a ‘trigger’. Once a trigger incident has been identified staff monitoring the systems could be alerted so they could analyse the footage.

What problem does it seek to solve?

Video surveillance has been an important tool in the fight against crime and in ensuring public safety. At the same time, when this technology is used in public spaces it has been controversial. This project aims to devise solutions to help protect human rights of equality, freedom and privacy, something surveillance systems are often criticised for evading.

Little research has been done on minimising the impact of video surveillance on privacy. A number of relevant techniques are under development which use face-recognition technologies to tag certain individuals, but these are not currently suitable for video surveillance in public places, where the quality of image is not sufficient to recognise faces. This research will devise new alternative techniques which will work with current systems.

How will it make a difference in the future?

The new techniques will allow data to be indexed, stored and managed based on relevance which will prevent agents and security staff having to view irrelevant data, in turn reducing privacy infringement. It will also incorporate secure erasing of irrelevant data. It is hoped this will help to make video surveillance more acceptable in European society.

The project started on February 1 2011 and will last 36 months.

Attached files

  • Dr James Orwell, Kingston University London

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