London has become a surveillance role model for many cities in the USA.
Every Londoner is caught on camera on average 200 times a day, much more often than a New Yorker. Yet, terrorist threats - real or perceived - are changing US attitudes to surveillance.
Due to major security concerns in America, the US is catching up to its British ally: about 3,000 cameras are being installed as part of the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, a trend echoed in many other American cities including Dallas, Phoenix, Baltimore, New Orleans and Los Angeles. Also, New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is in the midst of furthering a high-tech security upgrade, which began in 2006.
All of this is a challenge to the US Constitution, according to those who lean on the Fourth Amendment as a buttress guaranteeing a right to privacy. Law enforcement officials would argue that cameras are put in public places, where individuals cannot reasonably expect privacy. Yet, as surveillance continues and the use of digital images - including such seemingly innocuous ones as mobile phone snapshots - proliferates, the public debate and legal wrangling rage on.
London as a Role Model
In New York City, where citizens are not known for keeping quiet about their displeasure, reaction to surveillance is mixed. Since 9/11, the average New Yorker would tell you that indeed, safety is paramount. But that does not mean he or she would accept random Big Brother-like tactics and what has worked well in London is meeting resistance in the Big Apple. Congestion traffic pricing (and that would have also involved congestion surveillance cameras), endorsed by the state's new governor, David Paterson, was recently (after much debate) rejected by the state legislature.
At the time of going to press, NYPD (the New York Police Department) was unavailable for comment. However, City of London's Chief Superintendent and head of Anti-Terrorism and Public Order, Alex Robertson, says simply: "We're very open with any law enforcement agency who would like to come along and see our systems, and we certainly have spoken to those who have advised NYPD, mainly members of the business community."
Other London-like surveillance measures have already been embedded in New York.
Modeled after the Ring of Steel, the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, along with camera installations for the MTA, arose from the real or perceived threats resulting from both 9/11 and 7/7 bombings.
Chief Superintendent Robertson told E&T that, indeed, New York's representatives visited from across the Atlantic to study the Ring of Steel, aptly referred to as the 'City of London Traffic and Environmental Zone', which contains 200 surveillance cameras within the Square Mile alone. Since the first installation of close circuit television (CCTV) cameras in 1993, approximately £8m has been spent on the system.
"We've used CCTV for an awful lot longer than probably most places in America," says Robertson. Asked what drives the use of these cameras, he insists that it is primarily the safety of the people, rather than a specific terrorist threat. "People think the IRA problem, for example, is no longer relevant, but we are still very much aware that there are certain factions within Northern Ireland who would be keen to carry out terrorist attacks on the mainland."
Where in the World?
Londoners may be used to having their pictures taken - and as Robertson put it, ironically - especially when they're standing in front of a camera, but it remains to be seen if New Yorkers are quite as keen about it. Perhaps for this reason, MTA will not reveal which subway stations have the cameras already.
And US cities far beyond New York's borders have also been upping their surveillance in recent years. While exact numbers are constantly changing, IDC analyst John Gantz says the overall "digital universe" that includes surveillance cameras "will be ten times bigger in five years" as digital growth "creates economic growth."
Dilip Sarangan, an analyst for Frost & Sullivan's North American branch, confirms that indeed, surveillance is booming in the US.
"Until a couple years ago it was a completely unknown market. In the UK, there has been public surveillance for years, but in the US - because of all the privacy laws - they've never really tried it. But now, with an increased perceived threat they are starting to implement surveillance systems in public areas," he says.
Some of these include the area around the NFL venue for this year's Super Bowl; the New Jersey transit system; Amtrak's trains; the City of Chicago; the Dallas Police Department; the City of New Orleans; the City E
F of Baltimore; and innumer-able schools, libraries, shopping malls, banks and stores.
New Jersey Transit employs a 'Nice' surveillance system, and Amtrak recently announced the implementation of security measures on its trains - similar to those on airlines.
Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole says: "Security cameras are one of many tools Amtrak has used in the past, and continues to use, to improve safety and security on our system. As with other tools, we are constantly re-evaluating the effectiveness of such cameras and adjusting their deployment."
Not all surveillance systems are equal, but some, it seems, are more efficient than others.
Michael Dillon, VP of business development with Firetide, says they employed surveillance outside the Super Bowl arena in Phoenix, Arizona's downtown district. He quickly adds that this involved much more than CCTV cameras, namely Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP).
VoIP is giving rise to a strong market share for vendors such as Firetide, which takes an integrated approach to bringing pictures to life.
"I'd like to say it's video and VoIP on purpose," Dillon says. He is not sure how much of his business is video versus VoIP, "because the desire for both is strong".
"The Super Bowl's an excellent example of that - not only did they run video surveillance cameras, but they were also running discrete voice channels," Dillon says.
Another vendor, Israel-based Nice Systems, has installed its NiceVision ControlCenter at such world-famous landmarks as the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower (see sidebar) as well as at Dallas Fort Worth Airport, China's Ministry of Railways and numerous gaming and corporate facilities.
Nice's Moti Shabtai says they also recorded last year's Superbowl in Miami with their own mesh technology.
While the NiceVision system manages networked video servers, IP devices and video analytics, it also integrates with third-party security systems. Those could be Siemens, IBM or Motorola, as well as numerous telecommunications, e-business or software vendors.
Another surveillance system integrator, Firetide, touts a scheme based on a mesh network that routes visual and aural data between nodes. It allows for streamlined connections, hopping from node to node until the signal's destination is reached.
The technology has been deployed not only at the periphery of the Superbowl, but in numerous other locations. For example, an AgileMesh/Firetide video surveillance system was embedded at NASA's SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) and DC-8 Airborne Laboratory aircraft in Palmdale, California, a satellite facility for NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Airforce Base.
The surveillance system is solar-powered, high-resolution and wireless, transmitting video from the perimeter of the hangar to the on-site security operations center. The video is monitored in real-time; personnel patrolling the perimeter communicate with the operations center and can respond to incidents within seconds, according to Firetide. Images are stored for 30 days for incident review and investigation.
Shabtai points out that with systems such as the NiceVision, there are four steps involved: capturing video and transmitting it, recording, analysing and managing. Of this last step, Shabtai says: "This pertains to what you do with the metadata you extract from the video, for example interaction between people, abnormal behaviour."
He emphasises that the analytic aspect of a surveillance system is key. A good example is an unattended bag which would be watched to "anticipate an event before something is exploding at an airport".
"We have a number of applications to analyse any type of abnormal behaviour," he concludes.
Reliability of Images
None of the video would mean much without reliable images. Vendors such as Sony, IBM, and others, scrambling to address this burgeoning US market, would do well to come up with the clearest images possible.
Image quality is definitely improving. One champion of the technology is Lieutenant Paul Vernon of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), who says that his department adopted the cameras when quality met price point.
"The potential of cameras is rising all the time because people are recognising the benefits, and the current generation of camera technology is good, with the costs going down steadily," says Vernon.
Even so, it is impossible to run reams and reams of images whenever one actually needs to pin a thug. In recent weeks, the NYPD was faced with examining lots of video surveillance footage after a bomber dropped his load at an Army recruiting facility in the city's Times Square. While images of a cyclist approaching the station around 3am EST were helpful, the casual observer would certainly wish for something far clearer and less grainy.
Reliability of images notwithstanding, surveillance marketers are trying to keep up with the growing need for their services.
In the words of Shabtai, video surveillance has been a "reactive" procedure, but what his company and others are trying to do is anticipate incidents.
"We are trying to make security a proactive thing, so that instead of simply reacting to incidents, we'll anticipate events even before they happen," he says.
Camera footage seems to be holding up in court. Baltimore PD, for example, has seen a 40 per cent decrease in crime since installation of their cameras in 2005.