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They're Watching You - computer vision technologies (Jan/02/2011 )

Here is an interesting piece on computer vision technologies. Any thoughts? Too good to be true or too close for comfort? Ethical/legal issues? 21st century Big Brother personified/technified? :)


This kind of technology will likely be incorporated in the CCTV monitoring systems that are springing up all over the UK. It is another development to society that I think is far too Orwellian.

Is it proper for a government to record the movements and activities of all its citizens?
I personally think not.. though others might disagree with me. They would point out some positive arguments and statics for installing such intrusive technologies in public areas. Thus before we start any kind of debate on this subject, I believe we have to make a clear definition of what is public space and what is private. Is anything outside your home, public? And thus free to be recorded and disseminated to everyone? Or must permission be given first before something private becomes public?

At what point does it become too intrusive for the average person?
We already have software that can pick up individual voices from a crowd (at least in the lab). Will it be okay for the government to install microphones together with CCTV to record all conversations in public?

We really are on a slipper slope... in 10 years CCTV have become ubiquitous in the UK. Airports now have scanners that virtually strip search you...and there have already been leaks of those scans onto the internet. I awaiting in horror and discomfort for the day that body cavity searches become routine at the airport.


In the US, courts use the "reasonable person" threshold -- does a reasonable person have an expectation of privacy in a particular place? In your home -- yes. In the street -- no. In your lab -- no (because it's not really "yours"). Any bathroom, public or private -- yes.

Is it proper for a government to record the movements and activities of all its citizens?

Yes, provided the majority of citizens give their consent and the recordings are done only in places where a reasonable person has no expectation of privacy or under specific court order (e.g. in criminal investigations).


In Germany people are luckily quite concerned about privacy protection and data protection and therefore there are lots of laws to regulate it. For example it's not allowed to monitor employees all the time (except there is a strong need such as cashes or ATMs in banks). CCTV outsides that can also record your garden or your apartment through the window is not allowed and you can take action against it.
Anyway all the research seems to deal with a major problem of all the CCTV that is now existing: Millions of cameras and billions of records, but who is watching all the records? It will need quite a lot of artificial intelligence to replace finally human beings (underpaid, distracted and/or tired) watching the records, analysing them, and then deciding if there is need for action or not...
I guess it will take a long time until computers can do it independently (if ever) and software will only aid the dudes sitting there. E.g. until now the face recognition systems in field trials failed.


The "reasonable person" argument....feels wrong in the face of what public surveillance technology is and could become. Aside for simply observing, this technology records, which at present must intepretated and collated manually... but one can imagine in a decade or so that process can be done by a machine.

A reasonable person doesn't mind a stranger seeing his face in public. But would a reasonable person feel okay, if said stranger followed him all day from the moment he left his home to the moment he returned home. And in all that time, said stranger took notes of Mr Reasonable activity and recorded Mr Reasonable's conversations

Would Mr Reasonable be okay with this stalker?. Even if said stalker promised never to let another soul see his notes and recording on Mr Reasonable. And said stalker promised to call the police if he ever noticed Mr Reasonable being mugged? And while Mr Reasonable sit thinking about his benign stalker... he pauses to consider, what would happen if he did something that the Stalker did not approve off. Of course Mr Reasonable is a good person... who never stolen a dollar in his life, jay walked etc. But something about this arrangement just doesn't feel right. Why is stalking or listening in on other people's conversations, even in public area's wrong?

I can see the benefits of big brother keeping Mr Reasonable safe from danger. But is that safety blanket worth it? Public surveillance technology is such an amazing tool (You could probably spot the start of a flu epidemic with in once you have software to score certain behaviour), and one that could be abused fairly easily. I have a feeling that once this system is fully implemented, it would be permanent because reasonable expectation can change.

What is unreasonable to one generation, become perfectly normal to the next generation that grew up with it. People don't mind wearing bikinis and speedos at the beach, so why can't that be the mandatory dress code for air travel? Such a dress code would leaves very little to hide and everybody else would be safer..


While I understand your argument, the stalker analogy doesn't truly fit because of the second criterion which must be met for such surveillance to be "OK" -- the consent of the majority of citizens. A stalkee does not give consent to be stalked. Such consent by the majority would (presumably) only be given subject to strict rules governing the appropriate use, storage, and availability of the recorded data.


We’ve got a very tough top dog privacy watchdog J Stoddart who just got reappointed for another 3 years. In 2005, a Maclean magazine journalist was able to obtain her telecommunication-data from her private phone as well as those from the blackberry-systems provided by the government -from an online american data broker for $200 and with "no questions asked." I guess it was a real wake-up call so now she and the Privacy Commission are on a mission. :P She had taken on Facebook and Google. And just a few weeks ago, she ordered a full audit on the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority regarding the naked scanners i.e. if the federal agency complied to the commission’s recommendations after a previous investigation e.g., that no scanned images were stored and no personal info can be linked to the image.

The commission is also now targeting providers of wireless video surveillance system. A few years back, a video image of a woman providing a urine sample at a washroom in a methadone clinic in Ontario was accidentally intercepted by a backup camera in a vehicle driving by. The subsequent investigation revealed that clinic wasn’t aware that the signals could be intercepted and the service provider failed to inform the clinic of the vulnerabilities of the system. And I think that the Google case was something similar....its Street View cars “inadvertently” collected wi-fi data in neighbourhoods around the globe from unsecured networks.

Our privacy protection laws, pretty much like in the US are also based on the reasonable expectation of privacy by a reasonable person depending on what is deemed appropriate for certain circumstances and that personal information may not be collected, used or disclosed by entities without the knowledge and consent of the individual to whom it relates. In the case of installing CCTV for monitoring purposes, the commission suggests this four-point test to be considered:

1) Is the use of video surveillance cameras demonstrably necessary to meet a specific need?
2) Is video surveillance likely to be effective in meeting these needs?
3) Is the loss of privacy proportional to the benefit gained?
4) Is there a less privacy-invasive way of achieving the same end?

There was once an interesting complaint brought on by an employee of the Can Food Inspection Agency against the use of videocameras on site particularly those trained on the employees work stations which accdg to the complainant were not only for security and safety purposes (as per justification of their installation by the agency) but for evaluating the employees’ productivity and performance. The commission ruled the claim to be well-founded and ordered the agency to remove the contentious cameras. I wonder if we can safely assume that Mr Reasonable would change his attitude, behaviour and work ethics if he’s aware (and has consented) that someone or something is tracking all his movements throughout his working period.


I just read a newspaper article about a new development that might be used somewhen in reality. They use CCTV and a computer software that analyses the mimic of the of the people passing by. Possible suspects (i.e. criminal, terrorists) are recognised by their nervous mimics and ticks (so called microexpressions that one cannot control consciously). Additionally pulse and breathing rate are measured. If a person shows some unusual or alarming signs, officers may get the subject and do a questioning.
The system is called Malintent and uses the research approach of Paul Ekman, a psychologist.


wat abt hyper tensed ppl n ppl who will always remain in such a state (tensed)?

-vidhya iyer-