WHILE IN LONDON last week, I started counting CCTV cameras. I took my mission tasking from Jason Bourne's foray in Waterloo Station (at left). When walking 250m from the ground floor exit at Embankment Station to the front door of the hotel, I saw eighth different CCTV cameras. I imagine there are more in the vicinity. A talkative hotel employee shared some insight with me about how the staff has learned from suspicious behavior seen on CCTV placed outside the premises. His tips work for many other public places and I'm writing them here to share with third level college students when the academic term starts this month.
1. People wearing hoodies get a second look. This can actually work against the people monitoring the CCTV cameras because when you swivel the camera to watch a hooded pedestrian, you can miss the guy with the bulky satchel. That well-dressed man may be walking directly out the front door with hotel accessories (i.e., desk lamps or artwork taken from meeting areas).
2. People standing with shoulders slumped near edges attract attention. In the London Tube, a blob on screen that remains on a train platform after several trains have passed could be a loiterer, someone who is lost, or a jumper. On a street, a person who stands without turning a head left or right is more than lost. Their minds could be somewhere else and their behaviour could be unpredictable.
3. Outside the hotel, two CCTV cameras are set to detect objects being removed. This is a software service that has proven used for monitoring displays in museums. The hotel cameras use algorithms that are optimised for detecting suspicious movements behind cars and to flash red lights above areas when people walk close to the side of parked cars.
4. In Europe, queue jumpers can create tension in a crowded area. Sometimes it is smart to deploy security personnel to areas to prevent shouting, pushing, or shoving at taxi ranks, lost luggage desks, or budget airline scrums. Several queue jumpers in the same area often point to a need to intervene.
5. In airport passport control areas, people who stop to unpack sheafs of documents have stories to tell and sometimes they will try to project themselves too persuasively. Their documents may deserve a close inspection.
6. CCTV cameras pointed down at a cash till are designed to capture images of paper currency that is not deposited into the cash drawer. Freeze frame CCTV on cash tills can show undercharging done by staff to benefit friends who visit the shop for generous discounts.
I am a little uncomfortable with walking through beams of CCTV surveillance when in London, Dublin or while in shops or airport holding areas. CCTV is more than recording film for review. CCTV comes bundled with software that monitors behavior, either of people, objects or processes. This surveillance has wrapped itself around 21st century life with hardly any response from law-abiding citizens. It has become ingrained in Irish life as "definitely a necessity nowadays" if you believe the proclamations of civic officials across Ireland. Personally, CCTV's rise as the default method used to secure public areas bothers me because it's semi-permanent without any clear oversight as to its use in public proceedings. That discussion is for another day. For now, I'm stopping at merely identifying the conclusions you can draw from behaviour observed by CCTV.