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London Riots and Video Surveillance, Pt.2

August 10, 2011

My last post was about the lack of any apparent deterrence of rioting from CCTV. However that’s not to say that video surveillance is proving of no use to the authorities. However the way it is being used says a lot about both the limits of CCTV and the general problem of analysis of video images.

As part of ‘Operation Withern’, the investigation into the rioting, the Metropolitan Police have set up a special section of their website, London Disorder Images, as well as on Flickr, which is essentially crowdsourcing the identification of suspects. Despite being the most well-resourced police force in the UK, the Met lacks the resources, time and expertise to analyse and identify everyone it wishes to identify itself, and with widespread popular anger about the riots, they are banking on opening up the process of surveillance and identification as being more efficient and effective – and they may well be right.

Of course, with the problems of lighting, angle, distances, and image quality, the images vary in identifiability – and bear in mind that the few posted so far are probably amongst the best ones – and no doubt there will be many misidentifications. And, in addition, hundreds of people are already being processed through magistrates courts without much need to video evidence. But it is a tactic we are seeing more and more in many places (e.g. Toronto, following the G20 disturbances).

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