November 28, 2023

Security Pix Your World

Redefining Vigilance

US surveillance technology firm targets UK police forces and councils

4 min read

A Hackney Council spokesperson said no decision about whether to work with Fusus had yet been made, but emails seen by openDemocracy show a meeting was in the process of being organised as of 21 April this year, when a council employee asked for a demonstration. openDemocracy also understands Tower Hamlets Council has had multiple meetings with Fusus.

A Metropolitan Police spokesperson said: “Fusus demonstrated its products at the Police Strategy Forum in 2022. Employees of the MPS were present at this presentation and were in contact with Fusus after this event. The MPS has no current plans to work with Fusus.” Merseyside Police said they did not have plans to work with Fusus, while the City of London Police refused to give any details.

What are real-time crime centres?

Real-time crime centres live-stream video footage from CCTVs, number plate recognition devices and other kinds of surveillance data to a central hub where they can be analysed by police employees and artificial intelligence (AI).

RTCCs were first established in New York in the wake of the 11 September terror attacks. They have recently experienced a boom in the US, particularly following the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.

The Atlas of Surveillance project, which monitors police surveillance technology in America, says the country has more than 135 RTCCs. Critics say RTCCs significantly expand surveillance by the state, allowing law enforcement bodies to monitor everyone using public spaces as well as targeting specific individuals.

In addition, when US police departments purchase the Fusus RTCC platform, local businesses and public institutions are encouraged to connect their own cameras by purchasing ‘FususCORE’ bundles – hardware that connects CCTV cameras to the RTCC platform – which can cost $350 to $7,300, plus an annual $150 subscription. Owners can choose to allow RTCC operators access to their CCTV.

Homeowners can also sign up their private CCTV and Amazon Ring doorbells. Once set up, CCTV cameras stream footage directly to the local police department’s RTCC for analysts and AI to watch – or, if the owner prefers, police can request to view footage from the cameras in a few clicks, creating a network of private cameras across a city the police can easily view.

In exchange, CCTV owners get what is effectively live police monitoring of their private property.

Facial recognition technology

Many of the technologies incorporated in RTCCs are already in use by police forces in the UK, including live facial recognition, automatic number plate readers (ANPRs), drones, social media monitoring software and software such as predictive policing (used in the Met’s controversial Gangs Matrix). RTCCs stream these sources and applications together in real time so they can be easily viewed together on “a single pane of glass”.

US company Axon, which develops technology and weapons for military, law enforcement and civilian use, including Tasers, partnered with Fusus last year, which saw it invest $21m in Fusus and means Axon products are now compatible with Fusus. The Met purchased 22,000 Axon body-worn cameras in 2020, 19,000 of which were ‘Axon Body 3’ devices capable of livestreaming to the Fusus platform.

The quantity of data produced by RTCCs is too much for any human to process. Fusus uses AI to search old footage for items such as unattended rucksacks or specific pieces of clothing, or set up alerts for when the AI spots those items in livestreams.

It states its AI does not store any “facial recognition or innate human characteristics” (such as race) in its databases. However, there remains a possibility that video streams collected through Fusus could be exported to separate facial recognition software, significantly speeding up the process.

Amnesty, Big Brother Watch and Liberty all spoke out against the use of facial recognition in April when the Met police described it as “game-changing” and announced it would be pushing ahead with the technology’s use.

Targeting activists and marginalised communities

In the US, RTCCs have been used repeatedly to identify activists and protesters across the country. The Minneapolis police department’s Strategic Information Center, the local RTCC that uses Fusus software, played a central role in Operation Safety Net, a surveillance programme set up to target protesters and journalists during Derek Chauvin’s trial for murdering George Floyd.

The technology RTCCs rely on has been used disproportionately on poorer and ethnic minority communities, exacerbating already existing disparities in policing. “There’s this idea that using all these data streams we’ll be able to do smarter policing… that almost always just means that they’re going to keep heavily policing poor and minority areas,” said Beryl Lipton, an investigative researcher from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

In 2010, for instance, West Midlands Police and Birmingham City Council came under fire for installing more than 200 ANPR and CCTV cameras in majority-Muslim neighbourhoods as part of an anti-terrorism initiative.

“History shows us that surveillance tools target marginalised communities – especially people of colour and those from a working-class background. The last thing we should be doing is widening use of such technology,” said Andrews, from Liberty.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copyright © All rights reserved. | Newsphere by AF themes.