July 11, 2012

London Police Want Citizens’ Smartphones To Capture Evidence

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

Last summer, rioters took to the UK streets to loot and pillage in protest of the shooting of Mark Duggan by police in Tottenham, North London. These youths allegedly used BlackBberry´s BBM messaging feature to gather and organize their next “protest.” Though technology may have aided and abetted these criminals, it also helped bring the story to the rest of the world as local citizens took to Twitter and Facebook, reporting the scene in their area and taking plenty of pictures. Though CCTV was able to capture images of some of the rioters, helping Scotland Yard individually charge these criminals for their specific crimes, there were some shots taken by citizens that CCTV could not capture.

Now, Scotland Yard is working to build a computer system which will collect the vast amount of pictures taken by the public and analyze them to build evidence against individual rioters.

Similar to the system used by the BBC to gather and broadcast what they called “User-Generated Content,” police officials have been working with software companies to build a system all their own.

Given the number of rioters who took over the streets and the hours upon hours of videos captured by the CCTV network, some have raised concern that existing measures were not enough to adequately deal with the situation. Where the CCTV networks fell short, citizens´ smartphone pictures and videos have helped to fill in the gaps.

For instance, one particularly haunting moment from the 2011 UK riots came when young men assaulted and robbed a Malaysian student named Ashraf Rossli. In a video captured by a passerby, these young men pretended to help Rossli before beating him and taking his possessions. With the help of this video, and others like it, the courts were able to find and convict the rioters who assaulted Rossli.

A major concern for the Met, however, is if such a system would be able to handle large amounts of data and traffic, similar to last year´s riots.

According to Ben Darby, spokesman for StreamUK, who created the user-generated content system used by the BBC, their software would have to be able to withstand at least as much traffic as his companies software saw last summer.

“The Met were enquiring primarily about storage and how large a platform would have to be to operate under a similar peak to the London riots,” said Darby.

“During the riots the platform experienced a peak of 24,000 submissions, consisting of image, audio and video content.”

A Met spokeswoman has confirmed officials are working on such a system to collect evidence from citizen smartphones.

“As part of ongoing contingency reviews and planning we have explored a number of technical options to enhance our ability to capture high volumes of data sent to the MPS from external sources,” she said.

“We spoke to a number of companies about the solution they could offer that could best meet our needs and operational requirements.”

According to the Telegraph, many of these media organizations decided to build out similar systems after the London bombings of 2005. User generated content provided to be much more valuable, as organizations like the BBC received most of their early footage from users´ smartphones.