The UK's Gone Mad

Author: John Honovich, Published on Oct 02, 2012

Surveillance cameras are putting human rights at risk, blares a UK government official, a UK newspaper and the venerable BBC, creating an uproar of protests online.

Unfortunately, the technical claims underlying these assertions are categorically false. The UK surveillance commissioner is either being grievously misquoted, is grossly incompetent or propagating lies to rally opposition to video surveillance.

Review of Claims

Here are the claims made and the reality of each:

Claim - Face + HD: Warns about "facial recognition systems and HD cameras are allowed to proliferate on high streets."

Reality - HD cameras and facial recognition are two entirely different things. There are millions of HD cameras already deployed in the world with 99.999% of them not using facial recognition. Facial recognition is extremely rarely used with surveillance cameras. Any criticisms of the two need to be separated.


Claim - Pick Out Half a Mile: "It's the ability to pick out your face in a crowd from a camera which is probably half a mile away."

Reality - Top of the line PTZ cameras can barely capture faces at 100 meters away with an operator manually zooming in on a person. Capturing a clear image of a face a half a mile away requires very special purpose extremely expensive cameras that are rarely used even by governments. Picking a face out in a crowd a half a mile away is far harder still.


Claim - Super Magic MP: "16-megapixel HD cameras are now very affordable, so people are buying a camera with a huge optical and digital zoom power."

Reality - No one is buying 16 MP surveillance cameras with optical zooms as the one manufacturer offering them only sells fixed cameras. Very few are even buying them at all as they are quite expensive and have limited capabilities (low frame rate, super high storage costs, no 3rd party integration, etc.). Digital zoom is a red herring and has no bearing on any camera's ability to capture images of individuals.

Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox
Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox

 

Claim Miracle Panoramics:"A tiny camera in a dome with a 360-degree view can capture your face in the crowd."

Reality - 360, aka panoramic cameras, can barely capture face details just 10 feet away from the camera, forget about crowds accross or down the street. These cameras max out at 5MP while looking in every direction, delivering very little image detail in any one.

 

Claim Face Rec Accuracy: "I've seen the test reviews that show there's a high success rate of picking out your face against a database of known faces."

Reality - These tests are, ironically, mostly skewed by (the few) vendors (left) pitching these offerings. And the few government tests do not factor in the operational difficulties of using it in the real world. The false matches are typically huge and the requirements for ideal lighting and direct head image capture make the systems essentially infeasible.

 

Bottom line: The use of HD cameras is growing rapidly around the world but, by itself, provides little risk to the safety or privacy of individuals. The use of facial surveillance is NOT growing rapidly and continues to suffer from major operational problems.

BBC embarrassing Report

As technologically illiterate as the UK Surveillance commissioner sounds in the Independent, the BBC's article might be worse. To justify the surge in HD surveillance, the BBC cites manufacturer figures of 129,299 HD CCTV cameras in the UK by the end of 2012 rising to over 3.7 million by 2016. First, those projections are for the world, not the UK. Secondly, those are the marketing dreams of a fringe trade organization that serious industry professionals do not believe. This projection requires a 130% CAGR for the next 4 years, which would require a miracle.

The rest of the BBC report treats regular features like mechanical cut filters, WDR, and HD resolution as if they were science fiction come to life. Unfortunately and ironically, what the BBC lacks is any credible assertion about succcessful facial surveillance vendors, which is not surprisingly considering there are essentially none of them.

Update: BSIA's Bad Response

As if things could get worse, the British Security Industry Association's technical director essentially agreed that the science fiction claims made were actually correctly. Their main defense - that only criminals should really care:

“Such accuracy in detecting and identifying known criminals should only be of concern to those who have committed a crime, and should reduce the risk of innocent people being wrongly accused or convicted of a crime.”

This is an incredibly dangerous debating tactic, especially when opponents may see this as calling them criminals and where the truth is that this cannot be done accurately and effectively anyway.

Outlook

If the UK surveillance commissioner or the UK public wants to regulate, restrict or eliminate surveillance cameras, so be it. That is their choice. However, to ground the complaints on so fundamentally erroneous technical foundations is embarrassing for a country with such a proud and distinguished history of designing, deploying and operating surveillance systems.

Related Reports

Genetec Security Center 5.8 Tested on Mar 19, 2019
Genetec has released Version 5.8. This comes after a wait of more than a year that caused frustrations for many Genetec partners. Our previous...
City Physical Security Manager Interview on Mar 14, 2019
This physical security pro is the Physical Security Manager for the City of Calgary. He is a criminologist by training with an ASIS CPP credential....
Church Technology Director Security Interview on Mar 07, 2019
With 40+ years of experience in IT from a wide array of verticals, including US and foreign military, and large corporate and industrial settings,...
Massive Leak Of Chinese VMS Provider Exposes Xinjiang Surveillance on Feb 20, 2019
A subsidiary of China’s claimed largest VMS provider is tracking the precise location and ethnicity of millions in China’s Xinjiang region,...
Casino Surveillance Pro Interview: James Lathrop on Feb 15, 2019
James Lathrop has been working in casinos for almost 25 years. During that time, he says he has held "just about every job you can do in the...
ADT And 'The Defenders' Silent About Massive Complaints on Feb 14, 2019
ADT's largest dealer, "The Defenders" has been the subject of a massive number of complaints over many years and many forums, most recently a CBS...
Austria’s First GDPR Fine Is For Video Surveillance on Jan 29, 2019
Should EU businesses be concerned if police see a business' surveillance cameras filming public areas? This is what happened with Austria’s first...
UK: Private Video Surveillance Complaints Down Since GDPR on Jan 09, 2019
The arrival of the GDPR on May 25, 2018, brought fears the law would spark a massive increase in privacy complaints about security camera use....
IPVM Best New Products 2019 Opened - 70+ Entrants on Jan 07, 2019
The inaugural IPVM Best New Product Awards has been opened - the industry's first and only program where the awards are not pay-to-play and the...
Scam Research And The $86 Billion IP Camera Market on Dec 19, 2018
Scam. The most widely cited research numbers in many, if not most, industries come from a growing number of Indian 'market research firms'. We...

Most Recent Industry Reports

IBM / Genetec Surveillance System Investigated Over Philippines Human Rights Abuses on Mar 22, 2019
A lengthy investigation into an IBM video surveillance project in the Philippines, raising concerns IBM helped local police conduct a bloody...
Eagle Eye Favorability Results 2019 on Mar 21, 2019
Eagle Eye has been the biggest spender in the cloud VMS market including (via their owner) acquiring Brivo for $50 million and CameraManager from...
Large Hospital Security End User Interview on Mar 21, 2019
This large single-state healthcare system consists of many hospitals, and hundreds of health parks, private practices, urgent care facilities, and...
Silicon Valley Cybersecurity Insurance Startup Coalition Profile on Mar 20, 2019
Many industry people believe cybersecurity insurance is not worth it, as the voting and debate in our Cybersecurity Insurance For Security...
Covert IP Camera Shootout - Axis, Hanwha, Hikvision, March, Vivotek on Mar 20, 2019
Covert cameras were one of the last holdout areas for analog cameras. However, in the past few years, IP / HD covert cameras have become...
Top Metrics For Ensuring Integrator Profitability - Statistics on Mar 20, 2019
How do integrators ensure the profitability of their projects? As part of our profitability study, 100+ integrators answered the following...
Avigilon Launches 'Renewed Products Program' on Mar 19, 2019
There are lots of 'pre-owned' cars but pre-owned IP cameras? While such programs are common in other industries, in video surveillance, they are...
Hanwha Tax Evasion Probe, Camera Division Implicated on Mar 19, 2019
A Hanwha group subsidiary was raided as part of a tax evasion probe. While a Korean news media report listed the raided entity as 'Hanwha...
Genetec Security Center 5.8 Tested on Mar 19, 2019
Genetec has released Version 5.8. This comes after a wait of more than a year that caused frustrations for many Genetec partners. Our previous...
Retired Mercury President Returns As Open Options President on Mar 18, 2019
Open Options experienced major changes in 2018, including being acquired by ACRE and losing its President and General Manager, John Berman who...

The world's leading video surveillance information source, IPVM provides the best reporting, testing and training for 10,000+ members globally. Dedicated to independent and objective information, we uniquely refuse any and all advertisements, sponsorship and consulting from manufacturers.

About | FAQ | Contact