Lewis Biggs

CCTV in Operation on these Premises

Yesterday evenings theft of jackets from the inside of the doorway* of Chalkwell Hall re-kindled interests I have in CCTV.  See below Chalkwell Hall’s sophisticated Media Management System:

The simplistic rhetoric surrounding widespread usage of CCTV in the UK (coming both from those who would advocate the use of CCTV and those who would oppose it) had already been on my mind, and I think this is because several of the technological presentations over the last few days have echoed dystopian visions of panopticon future:

e.g.
- flowcharts, system and control diagrams for user (meaning person) management
- massive multimedia education/propaganda systems for the adjustment of attitudes
- indoor and outdoor locative systems for the tracking and monitoring of persons

The fact that this house is equipped with such a high-tech system of cameras and monitors and yet does not use any CCTV for the purpose of crime prevention struck me as particularly ironic following the thefts, so I decided I would have a go at using Chalkwell Hall’s much celebrated Media Management System to make a simple closed circuit television monitor system (like those used in pubs and clubs) which would be able to watch the front door:

There are several reasons why I wanted to do this but a simple motivation was to get a feel for how this media management system works (or doesn’t work) and to see exactly how accessible the system is “with the wires out”.

I decided to reposition one of the cameras and, whilst playing with it I found that it had a face recognition system onboard which was, in my experience, fairly sophisticated for an off-the-shelf domestic appliance.  The camera setup could be programmed to recognise individual faces by storing a photograph and then comparing biometric measurements in live footage.**

I tried out the face recognition with a few different people and it was successful at distinguishing and recognising their faces.  I would have liked to have programmed in all of the inhabitants of the house for the week and in this way built a system for distinguishing invited guests from intruders but the camera (Panasonic HDC-TM700) can only store reference images for 3 different faces.  I looked at hacking the camera and expanding for this capability (eg by adapting the firmware or using an API) but after a little research this seemed like a heavy approach to making this quite light sketch.

I decided instead to repurpose this unmodified consumer device for use as a kind of surveillance/screening system which would be able to search for and compare three pre-assigned faces.

The three people I chose to introduce to the system are facilitator Graham Harwood and our two esteemed guests due tomorrow – Jude Kelly and Lewis Biggs.  Portrait images of each of them have been taken from the internet and uploaded to the camera (without their consent) and now each time someone comes through the door their face is compared to a portrait of Graham*** Jude and Lewis.

(Below) Reference files stored in the camera on the three individuals:

Graham Harwood Image:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/24722640@N02/2692374244/

Jude Kelly Image:
http://www.womenspeakers.co.uk/speakerdetail.asp?speakerid=85

Lewis Biggs Image:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/freethinking/2008/free-thought/lewis-biggs.shtml

* thankfully the jackets were recovered the following day

** I struggled to understand what practical purpose this face recognition system would have for the target demographic of the camera (families etc.) although, Caroline pointed out that the tagging of photos has become a commonplace procedure on Facebook and could be seen within a wider trend of adding different kinds of meta-data to images.

***Later this afternoon the system was unable to identify Graham using the photo held on file (perhaps because he sports glasses and a versatile beard). When Jude and Lewis arrive tomorrow I hope the system will recognise them!

Guidelines for CCTV: http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/cctv_code_of_practice_html/9_responsibilities.html

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