Now you see me…

In 2002, the BBC reported that the average Londoner is caught on CCTV cameras 300 times a day. London alone has almost 7,500 council-operated cameras and many thousands of private cameras which are often of a higher definition than a digital SLR. But all this is nothing compared to the power of the smartphone.

The ubiquity of a rolling smartphone camera has turned crime-fighting into a social event, as the investigators of the Boston marathon bombings have proved. Police took a “tremendous” amount of video footage from members of the public who were in the area around the time the bombs went off. And nowthey have a result.

A similar tactic was used by police in Vancouver in 2011 to identify thousands of crimes during riots. “Crowdsourcing“, as this is often referred to, can be a powerful tool.

Indeed, it seems whenever and wherever an event takes place, someone has it on camera. Even the fertiliser tank explosion in Texas yesterday night:

But amateur footage is not always a good thing. In the case of the Boston bombings, it was actually a department store camera that assisted the police in identifying a suspect. The police and FBI are continuing their scouring of public footage, but they are not the only ones. A reddit page quickly sprung up to collect footage from people, but has just as swiftly turned worryingly accusative. The user who started the subreddit, oops777, posted this morning: “The two Males that the media have claimed the FBI are looking for are local guys and appear to be innocent. PLEASE DO NOT POST ANY MORE ON THEM, ESPECIALLY LINKS TO NEWS SITES THAT IDENTIFIES THEM”

Rule number seven of the subreddit: “Finally keep in mind that most or all of the ‘suspects’ being discussed are, in all likelihood, innocent people and that they should be treated as innocent until they are proven guilty.”


Bottom line: why worry about privacy from CCTV cameras, when its smartphones that’ll get you?

One thought on “Now you see me…

  1. Miles Hobson

    Great post. I think citizens pooling their videos and images in order to aid authorities find out the causes of a horrific event, such as the one in Boston, shows the care and passion there is in humanity; but when it’s used to develop what usually turns out to be a bit of a witch hunt through social media and other internet sites, it’s just irresponsible and potentially harmful.


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