back to article Ohio prof develops CCTV people-tracker 'ware

Boffins in Ohio have taken another step towards the global surveillance panopticon of the future, developing software which can autonomously track an individual through a city using CCTV cameras. James W Davis, associate prof at the Ohio State computer science and engineering department, developed the new spyware with the aid …


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  1. Funky Dennis
    Thumb Down

    Poor show, El Reg

    This kind of research has been going on for years. You are reporting, I think, on the work presented in a 7-page paper from three and a half months ago ("A Fast Linear Registration Framework for Multi-Camera GIS Coordination")

    I would guess that this is a small advance, like most research - not the solving of Computer Vision that you like to report breathlessly every few months. You would do better to try to understand the limitations of these systems and take comfort from how ropey they are.

  2. Anonymous Coward


    You cannot be serious !

  3. A J Stiles
    Paris Hilton

    Face recognition: Get real!

    Before there is decent face recognition software, there will be a usable decompiler. The abstract mathematics underlying the two fields of endeavour is pretty much the same, but a decompiler is more wanted.

  4. Nic Brough
    Black Helicopters


    they wonder why law abiding people like me have started wearing "hoodies"

    Stop watching me! I'm not doing anything wrong, but that does not mean I am happy with being watched.

  5. ShaggyDoggy

    What a dip

    Holy moly that's all we need. What was this guy thinking of.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Jeff "freakin" Goldblum...

    Your scientists were so pre-occupied with whether ot not that they could... etc.

  7. Snark Boojum

    Dodgy geezers

    I trust that the automatic police weapons system will just shoot anyone in charge of a loud shirt or looking at the camera in a funny way. oh Lord what are we getting ourselves into ?

  8. Wize

    How smart is it?

    What if you walk behind a bus and go out of clear sight or if you are join a crowd of people walking along? Will it still know you are the same blob that it was tracking before?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    rather worryingly

    This sounds like an extension of a project i did in University, which was just moving a single camera around to track a person recognised in frame.

    If it was being developed in Manchester i'd be very suspicious of my tutor.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Sanka... Snaka... Wanka... Again.

    Sannan... No. SAnkAran NOONONO <backspaaaaaaaaace>

    Narsnankwam..bhg klehg487 GRRRR %^*()&^*()@#

    I bet you used copy&paste, didn't you!?

  11. Anonymous Coward


    Wow, thank god for copy and paste...

  12. ClammyLammy



    Now that's one fantastic surname!

    Mines the one with the Deed Poll papers in the pocket...


    (thats MISTER Sankaranarayanan to you)

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I've been sitting on this idea for years, shelved it because I knew it would be abused. Trust a fucking academic to screw everyone over.

    Can I say cunting cunt?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    All in the name

    That's a beautiful surname you have there, Mr. Sankaranarayanan.

  15. Ned Fowden

    is this the start of ...

    John Twelve Hawks The Traveler, fiction becoming reality

    I guess it'll be handy for wasting tank loads of money in the hope we'll catch 1 or 2 criminals or terrorists AFTER they've committed whatever it is they were doing

  16. Alex

    where do these idiots come from?

    James W Davis you are a sick man, here's hoping you get hit by a bus

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Why not

    just implant a gps chip at birth, and be done with it. Dear God, we're reaching the stage where that doesn't seem ludicrous.

  18. Dan


    Lack of comments on a story like this on the reg, combined with a complete lack of silly Friday afternoon stories.....hmmm, last Friday before everyone goes off for 2 weeks, either you lot are in the pub, or you've all since gone home. Where's my Christmas BOFH?! (or at least some silliness to distract from a SERIOUSLY dragging afternoon...)

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Following more than one suspect

    What happens when more than one suspect (law abiding citizen) that are being tracked pass through the area covered by one camera, which suspect gets given priority?

  20. Anonymous Coward

    Nice trick

    You don't have to actually recognize an object in order to track it across a grid. Clever.

    Having said that, somebody stop these people! Follow anybody long enough and you'll see something "unsavory" to question them about...

  21. Sebastian Brosig
    Black Helicopters

    Re: "suspect behaviour"

    a quote from 1984

    He sat as still as he could on the narrow bench, with his hands crossed on his knee. He had already learned to sit still. If you made unexpected movements they yelled at you from the telescreen

  22. Steven
    Black Helicopters

    Oh dear

    Roll on the rants about the erosion of civil liberties and Big Brother culture.

    Sounds like a clever bit of programming to me from a bloke with an improbable sounding name. The facial recognition point is well made, people seem to keen to believe what is protrayed in TV shows is reality as opposed to fiction.

  23. Jonathan McColl

    Oh that is cool!

    Of course I'm all in favour of the tracking of some nefarious blackhat heading out of London on a motorway at 70mph with a kidnapped child victim or the contents of safe-deposit boxes or a lot of explosive. I’d definitely want her caught before anything worse happens.

    What I don’t like in any of these anti-habeas-corpus/database/camera/ID systems is the thought that a future government—perhaps even while I’m still alive—will decide to intern a group of ordinary people who had never done anything bad so had always had nothing to fear until a fashion dictated that ‘terrorist sympathisers’ need to be collected up. Are you over 30 years of age, or blond+blue-eyed, or Seventh-Day Adventist? Or ‘Arabic’ whatever that may mean?

    In my life and my history books I’ve seen or heard of it happening in Britain to Germans (or even those with vaguely Mittel-Europa names), in the Americas and Australia to aboriginal inhabitants, also in America to Japanese people, and to Russian-sounding ones. And to Jews in Germany (and most other places), to Christians in Italy, to Saxons in England. The list can be extended. Oh what Stalin, Napoleon, McCarthy and Hitler could have done with this system!

    Can’t stop the technology, so we need checks and balances. Watch the 1980 series of Yes Minister when they argued this out. They didn’t even have to guess what nefarious behaviour was.

  24. Norfolk Enchants Paris
    Black Helicopters


    So the next step is to catch people engaging in "Nefarious" behaviour. Lovely. A subjective term if ever there was one. What's the next step - tasers duct-taped to the cameras to automatically prevent said nefariousness from nefariating the non-nefarious?

    Well, at least there is some hope. I'm sure the software won't distinguish between car theft and car clamping, so some poetic justice would be meted out...

  25. sazoo


    Do these people not *watch* TV, this is how Skynet starts... Doh!

  26. brimful

    0 day exploit

    "That's the advantage of linking all the cameras together in one system - you could follow a person's trajectory seamlessly,"

    so if I move around the street like smoke particles in brownian motion, I should be able to avoid being tracked when I move out of view from the first camera - assuming of course I change my direction whilst I pass from one view to another.

    However not content with this, the uber geeks are also developing software to see if someone is acting out of order from the rest of his/her environment. that has 2 implications:

    1 - the brownian motion exploit example will soon be rendered use less

    2 - you now have to conform to being like zombies in invasion of the body snatchers.

    V for Vandetta comes to mind. :)

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not very nice

    Israeli Orwellian outfit have had this sort of thing for sale for years!

  28. jack horner

    Atypical = Nefarious?

    Bah! - So that would be anyone not wearing a little santa hat or those clip-on plastic antlers?

    What about the people not carrying at least three bulging shopping bags...what are they up to?

    Happy Winterval.


  29. Richard Kay

    random thoughts

    In no particular order:

    1. Isn't this what cellphone companies have been doing since the invention of the cellphone ? Tracking a phone as it moves from one cell to another ?

    2. This depends upon a government bureacracy where the right and left hands know what each other are doing and all systems are joined up. Evidence of this capability is notable by its absence. This kind of thing could be useful for local policing of football hooligans but I think national level surveillance will continue to be labour intensive requiring a significant team to monitor one individual effectively.

    3. I think automated facial recognition is quite easily defeated. Ask any hoody, or beardy, or someone with sunglasses, a hat or a scarf. The best trained police officers in the Met anti terrorism branch mistook an innocent Brazilian electrician for a suicide bomber with fatal consequences. Imagine the match had been done by machine and politicians and managers trying to get away with that one.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm not really paranoid, I just think I am...

    I just finished reading 'Little Brother' by Cory Doctorow ( which is all about near future government survelliance. Then reading this article makes me realise how close that future actually is...

    AC because I need the illusion of privacy even it its only in my self deluding mind...

  31. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    How to succeed at oppression without really trying...

    "..write code which can pick out people "engaging in nefarious behaviour"..."

    There are two ways to address this issue. You can either write complex intelligent software that can actually determine if a person is suspicious (difficult, probably impossible), or (and this is the good part) you can rewrite the laws to fit in with the technology we have at this moment in time.

    Rather like 'glorifying terrorism', which is now 'illegal' and means 'liking Al-Quaeda, or not liking the Home Office', or 'extreme sex' which is also illegal and means 'anything the vice squad havn't been invited to'. We will soon have 'acting in a manner intended to spook a pic microprocessor'

  32. Anonymous Coward

    Karthik Sankaranarayanan.

    Not enough "a's" in that name!

  33. Anonymous Coward

    Another Crazy Eddie

    "Not content with his efforts so far, Davis wants to go even further and write code which can pick out people "engaging in nefarious behaviour".

    "We are trying to automatically learn what typical activity patterns exist in the monitored area, and then have the system look for atypical patterns that may signal a person of interest," he says."


    Whatever it takes to hasten the Collapse and the start of the next cycle.

    Reaching for my coat 'cause I've got supplies to get put away in the bunker and ammo to make.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I doubt that it will work if the "target" mixes in with a large crowd doing lots of moves - most cctv doesn't have the resolution not frame rate necessary to keep up.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    CCTV Fail

    Most digital CCTV systems nowadays use a compression system for storing the video (even for realtime viewing, the image is generally compressed, saved and then sent over the network to the operator). This means that the "live" image is of quite poor quality. Couple that with low quality lenses and wide field of vision (i.e. covering a large amount of area) etc, and you get a difficult area to work in as far as automated tracking goes.

    Now, before you all think that I'm talking through my arse, I work in the Surveillance Department one of the largest Casino's in Europe, & have done for many years. I've been jointly responsible for implementing the digital system in our casino, so I do know what a difficult task the blob-tracking programmers have.

    In our casino, we have as close to a perfect environment as we can - lighting controlled, access to premises controlled, almost ideal placement of cameras, etc. However, we still find it incredibly difficult to track a player from one area to another - MPEG artefacts, large crowds of people in the shot, etc. (Imagine, if you will, a field of heads and hairdo's, as everybody's too close together for you to identify clothing, and you'll begin to get an idea of how hard it is to track a badly focused blob across a crowded room with artefacting).

    At least two things need to be done to make this a 'success': 1 - Higher resolution digital imaging and recording. 2 - Systems which need to be able to re-acquire a 'blob' having lost it, either by checking adjacent cameras to the last one the 'blob' was seen in, or predicting likely paths from previous data. Because, trust me on this, they will lose the person being tracked.

    Btw. Easy way to fox this sort of system - electro-chromatic or themo-chromatic clothing (or a nice, double-sided jacket, to be swapped in a darkened, camera-free room).


  36. T J
    Thumb Down

    Academics should all be shot.

    They're the ones with glasses ducking furtively in and out of the crowd, dumbly giving corporations and their puppet governments control over the masses.

    Oh sorry wrong meeting....


  37. paul
    Black Helicopters

    Not That New

    This technology is not that new, has already been developed by a company in runcorn 360 vision. I work for CCTV installation company and we trialled the system. I am guessing this system is the same, basically relies on absolute positioning.

    The inherent problem with these systems is that when the scene changes the cameras has to re-scan the surroundings. In external situations the problem is made worse by the fact that wind causes camera shake and zoomed in images are constantly changing.

    As for spotting unusual behaviour, these system are very hit and miss to say the least they only work in situations where there is a large amount of repeat or constant information, train stations, airports etc..

    Spotting unusual behaviour relies on a break from the norm, which could be anything, suffice to say these systems pick up so many potential threats and behavioural patterns.

    The vast majority of systems out there work best with operators.

  38. Alfazed

    Home Office plans

    Not surprised about this revelation.

    I am surprised that none of 'em has considered the TCO of such a system. Not to mention the practicality of monitoring it, or capability of the system's Stake Holders in agreeing on the project's scope or it's capacity. Let's face it Air Traffic, NHS, National Database, what have they in common so far ?

    TCO and FAIL. Right !

    Who the F**K is paying this git for the gravey drain ?


  39. Jules
    Black Helicopters


    "Nefarious" behaviour = Facecrime?

  40. Charles Silver badge

    Multiple cameras

    For those who claim they'd be able to thwart the cameras by switching in the gap between one camera's view and the next, this does not account for the possibility (which I believe is stated in the article) of the cameras having overlapping fields of vision. IOW, before you step out of one camera's eye, you're already in the next one's--seamless coverage, IOW.

  41. Wayland Sothcott Bronze badge

    Richard Random Thoughts

    "3. I think automated facial recognition is quite easily defeated. Ask any hoody, or beardy, or someone with sunglasses, a hat or a scarf. The best trained police officers in the Met anti terrorism branch mistook an innocent Brazilian electrician for a suicide bomber with fatal consequences. Imagine the match had been done by machine and politicians and managers trying to get away with that one."

    That's if you accept that the police made a mistake. There is a great deal of evil being done deliberatly and passed off as a mistake. It's more likely they had the right target just that they mishandled the assasination. Or was it even misshandled? They seem to have things pretty much sewn up so there are no serious conequences for their 'blunders'.

    Oh we seem to have let the terrorists blow up the trains.

    Oh we seem to have no CCTV footage, just a still picture that looks like it was done in photoshop by an idiot. We must tighten the regulations on hiring idiots.

    Oh we seem to have shot the wrong terrorist.

    Oh we can't allow the police to be charged criminally since they already said it was a mistake.


    Oh we seem to have left those disks on the train.

    Oh we seem to have broken the economy.

    Oh we seem to have given the banks too much money which they are forced to pay out in million pound bonuses to top staff. What bad luck.

    You see, I don't buy the excuse of it all being a series of unfortunate accidents by highly paid, highly qualified people in top positions of power who cannot be brought to book.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    the most important part

    Is that most of the footage on CCTV is of amazingly low quality (think "worse than youtube")

    That's why I always find it funny on CSI or similar programs on the telly when they "magically" enhance a 100 pixel face from a block away and come up with a detail "image" of the person they're after.....ha.ha.ha......not bloody likely!

    Paris, 'cos her video is much better quality.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters


    Our Fearless Leaders should have deployed this tool in the War On Terror ages ago. It's a miracle any of us lives yet to tell the tale of this tragic oversight. Won't some one please think of the children.

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