The last few weeks have been an embarrassment for surveillance, with a small number of companies turning this into a despicable marketing campaign perpetuating lies and crazy myths about what surveillance did or could do.
To be clear, almost all manufacturers were responsible, many refusing to capitalize on press opportunities. This makes it all the more unfortunate that a few irresponsible organizations have created completely unrealistic expectations, confusing the public and embarrassing the industry. This report explains the problems and highlights some of the worst offenders (for a full list, see our roundup).
The worst possible scenario for using pretty much any video analytic is in large crowds over large areas. It would be hard to imagine a more difficult scene than a marathon:
This impacts all types of analytics:
Abandoned object detection: In such scenarios, you would have immense false positives, with many normal people resting their bags on the ground. Equally problematic, you would have critical false negatives, where bombs are dropped, but are obscured from the camera by the movements and positioning of people.
Facial Recognition: With wide open outdoor areas, and people looking and moving in all different directions, even getting a quality facial images is incredibly difficult, without even trying to accurately match. And forget about recognizing people wearing baseball caps and sunglasses (like suspect #1).
Behavioral Recognition: Some vendors hope to detect 'abnormal' behavior but pretty much everything in a special event, like a once-a-year marathon, is inherently 'abnormal'. There's no magic video analytics that can 'sense' or 'smell' terrorists or bombers.
Unfortunately, even end users sometimes say crazy things like:
"Using facial recognition software and video forensics, they then could cross reference security video of people buying pressure cookers with images — such as those of the two suspects — taken at the marathon finish line"
That's simply magic, not what's feasible in 2013, nor any time soon.
The PR 'First Responders'
Within hours of the bombing, the first manufacturer went to work, with Chinese surveillance spam champion Cantonk sending out an email blast pushing their products as a solution to future bombings.
During the manhunt, industry PR firm, CompassPR, sent out a tweet promoting facial recognition, claiming that they 'can help find criminals in record time.'
3VR's PR Agency Solved the Boston Bombing?
The most dominant PR performance, perhaps ever in our industry, was turned in by 3VR, whom the media essentially credited for solving the entire Boston bombing. 3VR was everywhere from ABC News [link no longer available], the NY Times, NPR, CNET, USA Today, Technorati [link no longer available], etc.
The most outrageous was ABC News who headlined [link no longer available] "SF company tracking software helps ID suspects" tying together the Boston bombing, Lord & Taylor's surveillance footage, finding the suspects and 3VR's features. Unfortunately, there is zero evidence that 3VR was used at Lord & Taylor or had any role in identifying the Boston bombing suspects. Despite that, article after article featured 3VR.
Finally, days after the Boston police commissioner confirmed that face recognition played no role, 3VR's CEO admitted the obvious:
"Facial surveillance is in productive use today, but was not likely much help for Boston. It takes a deliberate effort to set up facial surveillance and it is not well-suited for the ‘after the fact’ video being used, at least not yet."
That would be fine, if 3VR did not spend the prior two weeks trumpeting their technology, including amazing claims like:
"Even without a name, [3VR's CEO] said, investigators could program multiple cameras at airports and elsewhere with the suspects’ images so the cameras would send an alert to them if someone resembling a suspect passed by."
While they trumpeted 'solutions' that did not contribute nor could have feasibly done so in Boston, the case was 'solved' by a victim who had his legs blown off and an attentive home owner [link no longer available].
Abandoned Object Fantasy
Despite abandoned object detection being discredited for years, it was obvious that some vendors would promote this as a solution. ObjectVideo did not disappoint, going on Fox News claiming "Technology is available today where cameras can automatically detect someone leaving a backpack behind" while showing simplistic scenes totally unlike the Boston bombing, e.g.,
Amazingly, the NY Police Department was featured on the Today Show saying that cameras are now so high tech 'they can actually pick out a bomb even hidden on the street before it goes off'. The example given is another 'abandoned bag in an empty area':
What a shame it would be to depend on 'abandoned object' detection that would certainly deliver massive false alerts as well as most likely miss the extremely rare real bombs.
Regular video surveillance is useful for monitoring large crowds and large areas as it helps security operators 'cover' more ground and document what happens.