Thursday, 23 October 2008


Defining the use of video surveillance, in a Homeland Security role

The U.K.'s wide scale adoption of CCTV over the last dozen or so years, has in many situations, seen the enthusiastic deployment of technology looking for an appropriately defined purpose.

The idea of public space (mostly Town Centre) camera schemes being tasked with improving public safety, may be a commendable concept in itself, but the legacy of almost exclusively deploying "active" CCTV systems with the inherent cost and operational limitations dictated by their structure, has resulted in a less than convincing argument for continuing the funding of a technology, which parts of the media would now have us believe is failing before our eyes.

The truth of the situation is that much which has gone before, has been an expensive experiment in an open space laboratory, where the outcome in terms of actual effectiveness, has been both predictable and lately proven.

Now anyone that's read any of my spurious scribblings over the years, will be aware that this is something of a recurring theme for me, albeit that it is particularly relevant to review the state of play at this time, given that many of the mistakes made over here, are now being enthusiastically replicated by regional governments and law enforcement agencies, right around the globe.

Where perhaps ten years ago, the motivation for deployment was based on anti social behaviour and mostly low level criminality, the world as we know it has changed in nature, and the ever present threat of terrorism, is now more than at any previous time in our history, a driving factor for the further deployment of  expansive and expensive, video surveillance networks.

We only have to look across the pond to our colleagues in the U.S., to see that massive amounts of Homeland Security funding are being channelled into large public space security camera schemes, which despite being less readily acceptable overall to the good folks stateside, are nevertheless being promoted as a necessary weapon in the fight against terrorism.

And yet experience here tends to suggest that given the often low operating efficiency of the average Town Centre camera, the real potential for addressing Homeland Security issues actually lies with the massive number of relatively low tech privately owned and operated cameras, most of which are in urgent need of some proper 'care in the community'.

Considering the security camera images captured of the London Bombers back in July 2005, including the failed attacks a fortnight later, and more recently of course the attempted car bomb attack on Glasgow airport, it is now widely accepted by most law enforcement professionals that privately owned and operated CCTV systems will undoubtedly in the future, hold the key to potentially unlocking both Homeland Security and serious organised crime investigations.

The fact that vast sums of investment continue to be pumped into unsustainable mostly inefficient publicly owned schemes, whilst little if any practical assistance is invested in improving smaller privately maintained installations, speaks volumes for the clarity of thought currently being applied to tackling one of the most serious issues facing our modern societies.

It's perhaps ironic that over here, government grants can so easily be obtained to help stop heat being lost through the roof, yet there's no actual mechanism available to help keep the roof on in the first place.

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