Camera Cultivation: Urban Security in the Austerity Age

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, Eric Jaffe explores how cash-strapped cities will handle terrorism. "The short answer is public surveillance cameras. The long answer is smarter public surveillance cameras."

May 8, 2013, 9:00 AM PDT

By Jonathan Nettler @nettsj


Jaffe reports from the New York Ideas festival, where NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly explained how New York City has managed to maintain vigilent in combating terrorism despite having 6,000 less officers than it did a decade ago. "[A]n intricate system of cameras and license-plate readers," which covers Lower Manhattan and is being expanded to midtown and other "vulnerable" parts of the city, has been integral to their efforts.

"Part of what makes this strategy so efficient, despite a reduction in the size of the police force, is that cameras are handling more of the workload on their own," says Jaffe. "Analytics enable the cameras to see something and say something, if you will: they can determine if a package has been left in a particular spot for a long period of time, for instance, and track back through files to find a person wearing a certain color shirt."

However, as Sean Gallagher explains in Ars Technica, technology (and facial recognition software specifically) clearly failed in the search for the Boston bombing suspects. "Under the best circumstances, facial recognition can be extremely accurate, returning the right person as a potential match more than 99 percent of the time with ideal conditions," he says. "But to get that level of accuracy almost always requires some skilled guidance from humans, plus some up-front work to get a good image." Let's just hope those skilled humans aren't being furloughed when they're needed.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013 in The Atlantic Cities

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