Former Deputy Chief Information Officer at Scotland Yard Andrew Watson told to Innovation House about how “smart video cameras” help London police to investigate crimes. And in what way Kyiv relates to this
London is stuffed with surveillance video cameras, like no other city in the world. About 20% of all world’s outdoor video cameras are installed in the capital of the UK. These are millions of devices. They were bought at different times from different manufacturers, they have different software and hardware of system and still give rise to heated disputes in British society.
Some video cameras are used to monitor road traffic intensity and send fines for road traffic offenses. Some video cameras are able to recognize faces and detect wanted criminals. There are cameras that read license plates of stolen vehicles and record any “suspicious” actions outdoors. Are such measures effective enough?
Believe it or not, but existence of video surveillance does not stop criminals – according to British police, number of violations does not decrease from year to year. Moreover, London came through two terrorist attacks this year. The latter was in June, when terrorists rammed truck into pedestrians on the bridge. Outdoor video surveillance cameras helped to investigate these attacks. Although they could not turn them away.
Information Security Expert Andrew Watson worked for 10 years in various departments of British municipality: from “Chief IT Pro” at London Transport Police to Deputy Chief Information Officer at Scotland Yard. He saw awesome work examples of this system and knows all its weaknesses.
Watson arrived to Kyiv as a Global Public Safety Expert of Huawei company that manufactures video cameras and installs them in “smart” cities. He met with representatives of State Emergency Service of Ukraine – told about the decisions of his company. Moreover, he met and had conversation with the Innovation House journalist.
Piles of old junk
“Indeed, London has the largest number public video cameras per one person. Only London Underground itself has about 12 thous. of them. But the problem is that many of these cameras are not synchronized with each other and are not connected to police databases,” – he said. People keep on committing crimes, being sure that cameras are not interconnected.
Old video cameras shall be replaced, but instead they are simply thrown away. Thus, for instance, in 2016 London city council decided to turn off and trash 75 video cameras, installed in the city center. The council calculated that replacement will cost 1.7 mln GBP and their maintenance – 1 mln GBP per year.
Not only video cameras require constant updating, but telecommunication networks, through which video is transmitted, too. The more “heavy” content we have, the more severe load the network has. The ability to increase network transmission capacity not always exists.
We may find out the way if we reduce the load on the network – for instance, to replace the video stream with the text. This is how it works: markers are put within video surveillance zone and when any object enters the marked zone, video camera sends message to police, “This system is already working in some London Underground stations, If the person steps over the constraint line on the platform, the train simply will not arrive to the station,” – Watson said.
London video surveillance system has about 20 types of video cameras, and only small portion of them have “smart” software and hardware of system. All the rest are just recorder video, which is then manually processed by police. “If the system was created now, it would be done quite otherwise,” – Watson said. In this respect the cities that create video surveillance system at the present day and “from the ground up”, have an advantage. Like Kyiv city does.
There are about 4 thousand video cameras in the capital of Ukraine. These cameras were manufactured by Chinese companies Huawei and Hikvision. Pictures from them are transmitted to Situation Center at Dehtiarivska St. that was opened in the early 2017. According to “Electronic Capital” target-oriented program for 2015-2018, provisions were made for 68 mln UAH to create the center and 45 mln UAH to purchase equipment and software for it.
How London purchases video cameras
Requirements for equipment are set in advance, and then tender is held via special internet-platform (like Ukrainian Prozorro). If any company at no charge renders its advisory opinion to the city in terms of adoption of technologies, purchase of equipment and etc., it shall realize that it will not be admitted to the tender. After all, otherwise it may create customized fit tender conditions, and this is corruption.
Recognition of images and data from video cameras – is not a mainstream yet.
Both London and Kyiv video cameras may do a lot of useful things. For instance, 37 of them analyze license plates of vehicles on the road and help to find stolen vehicles. Thanks to video cameras on the central squares of Kyiv, on several occasions police caught persons having explosive devices under their clothes.
Their mass use in various fields will be at some future date. “Geoinformation systems are just now moving away from niche in consumer technology,” – Watson said.
Human mistake factor
Thanks to information technologies, new crime investigation tools are being created. But the capture and punishment of guilty persons, first and foremost, depend on the will of police to work. Human mistake factor decides everything: both in Kyiv and in London. According to Watson, British legal system was being formed over the centuries. Core document of the country, Magna Carta, was adopted as far back as 1215. And London police is 200 years already. In other words, British law has a long history of trial and error.
It is interesting that many of its “long-standing” norms are applicable even in the digital age. For instance, 40 years ago one law was adopted. It prohibits drivers from watching movies or any other video upon the road. Watson said that at that time there were neither video players, nor smartphones. But there were billboards with moving pictures. When one of the drivers was unable to take his eyes off this billboard, and this resulted in road accident, corresponding law emerged that is still effective.
Of course, London police also faces legislative problems while working with video. Often police simply cannot get access to video cameras in public places due to the laws protecting privacy. “As a matter of fact, Great Britain is very conservative. And this relates to privacy issues too,” – Watson told. In the United Kingdom you still may use the services of mobile operators in anonymized form – you do not need passport to purchase SIM-card. Like in Ukraine.
The UK cannot exploit opportunities of video surveillance to the fullest extent, like China does, for instance. “There was an amazing case there, when police using the video cameras tracked the flows of people from the crime scene, then analyzed bank transactions and a great deal of data as well, gradually narrowing the round of suspects. And it finally caught the criminals,” – Watson told.
Not only video cameras operate in this system. Wi-Fi access points that are literally dotted thought Chinese cities, read out data on mobile devices within their operating range, even if a person did not connect to Wi-Fi.
Watson is sure that it is impossible to do the same in the UK. On the contrary, with the development of technologies, like many other European countries, it will protect the private life of citizens from invasion even more.