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Already Underway: Smart A.I. Running Our Police and Cities

Pippa King
21st Century Wire

Increasingly our streets and cities are using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to point police to crime hotspots through CCTV networks.

However CCTV, closed circuit television, is not quite what is operating on our streets today. What we have now is IPTV, an internet protocol television network that can relay images to analytical software that uses algorithms to determine pre-crime area in real time.

Currently this AI looks at areas that may be targeted for crimes such as burglaries or joyriding, with the predicted hotspot information being sent direct to law enforcement smart phones in the field. This analytical software is being used in Glasgow, hailed as Britain’s first ‘smart city’, where the Israeli security firm NICE Systems are running the CCTV/IPTV network, analysing data from the 442 fixed HD surveillance cameras and 30 mobile units under a project called Community Safety Glasgow, whose primary objectives are described as, ‘delivering Glasgow a more efficient traffic management system, identifying crime in the city and tracking individuals.’

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SKELETON CREW: With AI, there will be no need for large, fully staffed police surveillance units.

Whilst Glasgow City Council claim they are not currently utilising NICE System’s facial recognition capabilities, the new HD CCTV system being installed for the Future Cities Demonstrator initiative, funded by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills via its quango the Technology Strategy Board, is still capable of tracking individuals within the city. A spokesperson from Glasgow City Council stated:

“A trial of NICE’s video analytics is planned for later in the year [2015]. This involves ‘Suspect Search’ which can be used to find missing children or vulnerable adults quickly, such as those with dementia, as well as tackling crime. Again it does not involve facial recognition or emotional intelligence.”

As well as missing children and vulnerable adults presumably Suspect Search can also track suspects – the clue is in the name. No facial recognition. No surreptitiously taking and covertly using our biometrics, that’s okay then?  So how does this tracking work? The software still has the same outcome as using facial biometrics – individuals can be identified, traced and tracked. According to NICE;

“Working with information about the entire body, from head to foot (clothes, accessories, skin, hair) enables faster and more accurate matches.”

Of course, because CCTV cameras are not at head height and persons of interest do not always have their face aimed at the camera, it could be the back or top of the head or the particular person could be wearing a cap, therefore analysing the whole body makes sense. It’s still the same outcome as using our biometrics, agencies being able to track us individually, covertly.

SEE ALSO: NeoFace: How Anonymous Are We To Big Brother Police Agencies?

Moving surveillance cameras to a height that facial recognition software can operate seems to be where polices agencies are moving towards. On March 9th Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe called for surveillance cameras to be moved to head height;

“We‘ve got a strategy to encourage people to do with their cameras, is to move them down to eye level… facial recognition software has got better it means we can apply the software to the images of burglaries or robberies whatever, so we can compare those images with the images we take when we arrest people.”

Cameras previously situated out of reach to stop the public from vandalising them does not appear to be an issue anymore. Clearly, police now believe that the public are sufficiently desensitised to CCTV and thus will not physically interfere with the system. Having cameras head height enables facial recognition software to run behind whatever surveillance system is operating, which is precisely what West Midlands Police intend to run behind Birmingham’s HD CCTV network.

West Midlands Police have a Public Private Partnership (PPP) with multinational corporation Accentureto revolutionise and streamline the way the force handles data, uses mobile and digital technology and interacts with social media and other organisations such as local authorities.” This includes running a facial recognition system called ‘Face in the crowd’ behind what the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) call “the wealth of CCTV footage available” in Birmingham. Apparently ’Face in the Crowd’ is sold to us as a device purely for finding missing persons, much like how ‘Suspect Search’ in Glasgow is primarily for missing children vulnerable adults. All for our safety of course.

Accenture also deliver facial recognition for police body worn cameras. Heading up the Accenture Police Services department is Managing Director Tim Godwin, former Deputy Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police Service, his attitude towards this facial recognition used with police body camera is that:

“They [body cameras] are a good thing in my view, it gives you a lot of additional evidence, you have got facial recognition, you can actually link it directly to a case system – so it’s really good.”

How long before West Midlands Police start utilising a wider variety of Accenture’s products such as facial recognition body worn cameras? Would they tell the public if they did anyway?

Maybe they would follow ACPO’s lead of using a facial recognition system since April 2014, accessing the Police National Database using 18 million of our photographs, a system that they have been developing since October 2012, and failing to inform anyone.

Quite where West Midlands Police are up to with their facial recognition technology is unclear, however a Freedom of Information request to the police authority is due back from them by end March 2015, at which time we can analyze their official policy on the technology.

Although local government’s CCTV networks are not routinely hooked into private surveillance networks, the advent of IPTV, where surveillance data no longer being recorded on video tapes for storage but being saved in the ‘cloud’, would presumably create a long term desire for government agencies to be able to have access to these private surveillance networks.

Precrime in Here

With an ever-increasing use of these technological and analytical ‘intelligences’ being used behind what is unchanged existing street furniture, essentially nothing outwardly changes for us.

These systems are becoming more the norm, and why not, if it is “for the greater good”, as the police agencies state?

However each day they are used, they ‘learn’ more about how we behave; our mass movements as herds in cities and as individual humans. How long will it be before the systems begin predicting ‘pre-crime’ in each one of us individually?

Currently, precrime software solutions are running in selected police departments across Great Britain, as well as in other countries.

Where does the analytics stop?

Here just one of many basic AI operating system concept being used to promote the coming AI transition:


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Will the machine scan parliament’s reams of legislation to analyse the particular crime that has been committed by an individual?

Then perhaps the machine can scan court case histories, to generate algorithms for ‘best conviction outcomes’, or advising police agencies specifically what crime has been committed and the optimum penalty.

Could the machine ultimately analyse whether we are guilty, or innocent?

Beyond its obvious astonishing computing ability and task applications, the real prospect of AI raises so many more questions regarding the devolution of many layers of human decision-making, that until now have been taken completely for granted. As AI increases in its its power, so too will the ethical considerations grow. One would hope so anyway.

These systems have the potential to create dizzying amounts of data sets about us. Being able to control our personal digital footprint is now a thing of the past as we move into an age of mass ubiquitous data harvesting.

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21WIRE featured author Pippa King is a researcher and writer whose work focuses on digital privacy and the emerging issues regarding RFID, biometrics and surveillance. See more of Pippa’s work and research at State of Surveillance and Biometrics in Schools.

READ MORE POLICE STATE NEWS AT: 21st Century Wire Police State Files

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