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May 23 2013

11:00

The Crowd and the Mob: Opportunities, Cautions for Constant Video Surveillance

Recent events in Boston highlight both the potential and hazards of ever-present cameras. In the hours following the April 15 bombing, law enforcement agencies called upon commercial businesses and the public to submit relevant footage from surveillance cameras and mobile devices. While the tsunami of crowdsourced data threatened to overwhelm servers and analysts, it provided clues that ultimately led to identifying the perpetrators. It also led to false identifications and harassment of innocent bystanders.

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Use of surveillance video to solve large-scale crimes first came to attention in the 2005 London subway bombings. In part due to its history of violent attacks by the IRA, London had invested heavily in closed-circuit television (CCTV) technology and had installed nearly 6,000 cameras in the underground system. In the days before smartphones, these publicly installed cameras were the most reliable source of video evidence, and law enforcement was able to identify the bombers using this footage.

With the advent of low-cost cameras and video recorders in smartphones, witnesses to events soon had a powerful tool to contribute to the law enforcement toolbox. Couple this technical capacity with the proliferation of social-networking platforms and the possibilities for rapid identification -- as well as the spread of misinformation -- become clear.

Vancouver police were overwhelmed with evidence from social media after the Stanley Cup riot in June 2011. This instance also highlighted the need for two things: stronger means of verification, since a number of photos were retouched or falsified, and protections against vigilantism or harassment of unofficial suspects.

authenticating digital images

Several projects currently in development address the need for a reliable system to authenticate digital images. In addition to a growing number of commercial companies specializing in audio and video forensic analysis, academic and non-profit labs are developing tools for this purpose. Informacam, a project of WITNESS and The Guardian Project, will strengthen metadata standards, and the Rashomon Project at UC Berkeley will aggregate and synchronize multiple videos of a given event. (Disclosure: The Rashomon Project is a project of the CITRIS Data and Democracy Initiative, which I direct.) These tactics, among others, will bolster the use of video evidence for criminal investigations and prosecutions.

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Despite the clear advantages of drawing on crowdsourced footage for solving crimes, civil liberties groups and privacy advocates have warned about the dangers of perpetual surveillance. We saw in the Boston case the liability inherent in the ease and speed of circulating false claims and images. The New York Post published a front-page photo of two young men mistakenly identified as suspects, and the family of another young man, who had been missing for several weeks, was tormented by media seeking stories about the misplaced suspicion fueled by Reddit, an online social media aggregator.

surveillance vs. crime prevention

In addition to facilitating the "wisdom of crowds," technology grows more sophisticated for automated surveillance, including face recognition and gait analysis. In the last decade, many cities have accelerated implementation of surveillance systems, capitalizing on advances in computer technology and funds available from the Department of Homeland Security and other public sources. Yet whether considering fixed cameras or citizen footage, the effectiveness of surveillance for crime prevention is mixed. A 2009 CITRIS study shows San Francisco's installation of cameras in high-risk neighborhoods led to decreases in property crime but had apparently little effect on violent crime. If anything, perpetrators learned to evade the cameras, and crimes were displaced into neighboring areas or private spaces.

In open societies, technological advances should spark new discussions about ethics and protocol for their implementation. Communities, both online and in-person, have an opportunity to debate the benefits and costs of video evidence in the context of social-networking platforms. While their enthusiasm must be tempered by regard for due process, armchair investigators should be encouraged to work in partnership with public agencies charged with ensuring public safety.

Camille Crittenden is Deputy Director of CITRIS, based at UC Berkeley, where she also directs the Data and Democracy Initiative. Prior to this appointment, she served as Executive Director of the Human Rights Center at Berkeley Law, where she was responsible for overall administration of the Center, including fundraising, communications, and outreach, and developed its program in human rights, technology, and new media. She held previous positions as Assistant Dean for Development in the division of International and Area Studies at UC Berkeley and in development and public relations at University of California Press and San Francisco Opera. She holds a Ph.D. from Duke University.

Image of surveillance camera courtesy of Flickr user jonathan mcintosh.

April 16 2013

05:24

The View from MIT on the Boston Marathon Explosions

Here's what we know:

At 2:50 p.m. two explosions occurred along on Boylston Street near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Police later detonated a third device further down the street.

As of 6 p.m., two people are dead, and nearly 90 injured, according to the Boston Globe. At MIT's Civic Media Center, we have been following along through both broadcast and social media, including the Globe's liveblog and Completure's News Scanner.

The Boston Marathon is one of the country's pre-eminent sporting events. It draws athletes and spectators into the beating heart of one of the world's best cities.

Civic is located almost directly across the river from where the explosions occurred. The blasts were audible from the MIT campus. Members of the immediate Civic family have checked in. Some were at the marathon. All are safe.

Not everyone has been lucky enough to contact their loves ones as we have. On the Boston Marathon website you may search for runners and check their status. Google has launched an instance of their People Finder for the emergency. The Red Cross' Safe and Well system appears at the moment to have been overwhelmed by demand.

Geeks Without Bounds is maintaining a Google Doc of resources, including spreadsheets where people can both offer and request housing.

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I write this as a native. My mother grew up in Everett. My father grew up in Melrose. Like my Civic colleague Matt Stempeck, who attended the marathon today, I was born in Reading. I love Boston. I love its people. I love its tradition. It is my home. My heart hurts. And then I think of Carlos Arredondo.

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Arredondo became a peace activist in 2004 after he lost one son in Iraq and his other committed suicide in grief. A Costa Rican emigrant, he became a citizen in 2006 with the help of the late Ted Kennedy. He happened to be near the finish line today and rushed to assist first responders. A man who has suffered such loss, such grief, continuing to do all that he can to help other members of the nation he can now call his own.

Arredondo gives me hope. He reminds me that, despite all evidence to the contrary, there is good in the world. As did Patton Oswalt, the acerbic comic, who today wrote some words I will try to always remember: "So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, 'The good outnumber you, and we always will.'"

As a wise man once said:

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RELATED READING: Social Media Offers Vital Updates, Support After Boston Marathon Bombings

Chris Peterson is on leave from MIT's Office of Undergraduate Admissions, where he has spent three years directing web communications, to be a full-time graduate student in MIT's Comparative Media Studies program. In addition to overseeing all web and new media activities for MITAdmissions, Chris liaised with FIRST Robotics and had a special focus on subaltern, disadvantaged, and first-generation applicants. He continues to be involved with MIT's awesome undergraduates as a freshman advisor. Before MIT, Chris worked as a research assistant at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School and as a Senior Campus Rep for Apple. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Coalition Against Censorship, as an Associate at the National Center for Technology and Dispute Resolution, and as the sole proprietor of BurgerMap.org. He holds a B.A. in Critical Legal Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he completed his senior thesis on Facebook privacy under Professors Ethan Katsh and Alan Gaitenby. He is interested generally in how people communicate within digitally mediated spaces and occasionally blogs at cpeterson.org.

A version of this post originally appeared on the MIT Center for Civic Media blog.

01:21

Social Media Offers Vital Updates, Support After Boston Marathon Bombings

Two blasts near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon Monday left the city in shock and frenzy. Soon after, disheartening on-the-ground tweets, photos and videos were shared throughout the social web. In the early hours, these updates served to inform the entire world of the horror and tragedy transpiring through the streets of Boston. In the later hours, online and social media tools such as Google Docs and Twitter connected Boston locals to the out-of-town runners and visitors who could really use their help. The way social media is manifesting in immediate relief for victims is perhaps one uplifting moment in a truly heartbreaking day. WARNING: Some graphic images are in the roundup below.

>>> RELATED: The View from MIT on the Boston Marathon Explosions at Idea Lab <<<

[View the story "Social Media Provides Relief After Boston Marathon Explosions" on Storify]

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

01:21

Social Media Offers Help After Boston Marathon Explosions

Two blasts near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon Monday left the city in shock and frenzy. Soon after, disheartening on-the-ground tweets, photos and videos were shared throughout the social web. In the early hours, these updates served to inform the entire world the horror and tragedy transpiring through the streets of Boston. In the later hours, online and social media tools like Google Docs and Twitter connected Boston locals to the out-of-town runners and visitors who could really use their help. The way social media is manifesting in immediate relief for victims is perhaps one uplifting moment in a truly heartbreaking day.

[View the story "Social Media Provides Relief After Boston Marathon Explosions" on Storify]

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

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