2 May 2002
Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 07:53 GMT 08:53 UK
to predict behaviour
Cameras of future could be watching how you behave
By Jane Wakefield
BBC News Online technology staff
CCTV cameras that can predict behaviour could play a vital role in the fight against crime.
Camera software, dubbed Cromatica, is being developed at London's Kingston University to help improve security on public transport systems but it could be used on a wider scale.
It works by detecting differences in the images shown on the screen.
For example, background changes indicate a crowd of people and possible congestion. If there is a lot of movement in the images, it could indicate a fight.
"It could detect unattended bags, people who are loitering or even predict if someone is going to commit suicide by throwing themselves on the track," said its inventor Dr Sergio Velastin.
The UK has the largest percentage of the 25 million CCTV cameras worldwide, with 2.5 million cameras watching citizens in town centres, car parks and train stations.
The biggest advantage of Cromatica is that is allows the watchers to sift the evidence more efficiently.
"The more cameras you have, the less you can see. One person could be looking after 25 cameras," said Dr Velastin.
"An automatic inspection alerts them to what they want to pick up," he added.
Critics argue that existing CCTV cameras are failing to stop crime; they merely move it to areas that are not covered by the cameras.
Civil rights organisation Liberty is concerned that such systems will not be properly regulated.
"It is not so much the technology but how it is used that concerns us, and how to keep the balance between protecting safety and protecting privacy," said a spokesperson for Liberty.
"If software is going to be looking at behavioural patterns, who defines what behaviour merits further attention?" he asked.
Dr Velastin insists that Cromatica is "not about Big Brother" but admits that it could become a political hot potato.
"Decisions will have to be made at a political level as to what the right balance is but the police cannot stop you unless they have good reasons to do so," he said.
Public polls largely support the use of CCTV cameras and it is therefore inevitable that surveillance will get more sophisticated, points out Dr Velastin.
The cameras do not always have to be pointed at the citizen, though.
According to Dr Velastin, discussions are ongoing as to how cameras can be used by citizens, for example to watch the progress of their train when they are waiting at a station or to see who is on a tube late at night.
"It is a very simple thing to do. Companies just haven't got their act together to do it," said Dr Velastin.
Transport systems across Europe have expressed interest in the advance warning software and Cromatica has already been tested at London's Liverpool Street station.