Computer Crime Research Center


Man vs. Computer: Crime-Fighting Edition

Date: March 25, 2008
By: Mike Nizza

The sum of two news reports provide a rather unscientific counter to a Lede post in July on the unbeatable checkers program. In matters of video surveillance, it seems, Man is quite capable of besting technology. Or at least he was on Friday:

* Crime cameras not capturing many crimes
* Cameron Caught Breaking Traffic Laws

The first headline, from The San Francisco Chronicle, provided the latest update on a deeply troubled program for fighting crime. Sixty-eight cameras perched above rough street corners in the city by the bay have not only been beset with technical glitches; they also are failing to capture many crimes and appear to be having very little deterrent effect. Here are the results of a study from University of California at Berkeley:

Researchers found that nonviolent thefts dropped by 22 percent within 100 feet of the cameras, but the devices had no effect on burglaries or car theft. And they’ve had no effect on violent crime.

In other words, after the installation of the cameras, which record images but are not monitored in real time, “people moved down the block before killing each other,” the Chronicle report surmised.
Meanwhile, cameras in Britain caught a leading politician as he committed an astounding four criminal violations in one day’s commute. And unlike San Francisco, London’s crimewatching cameras are often operated by human hands. The Daily Mirror, a leading tabloid, published video from a camera wielder who followed David Cameron, the leader of Britain’s opposition Conservatives, as he biked to work.
During the short trip, he ran two red lights, pedaled the wrong way up a one-way street and failed to keep left as traffic signs ordered. Caught red-pedaled, Mr. Cameron apologized immediately. “I know it is important to obey traffic laws, but I have obviously made mistakes on this occasion and I am sorry,” he said, according to Sky News. “It is good to know The Mirror are watching over me - it will keep me on my toes.”
For The Daily Mirror, the traffic violations amounted to “David Cameron’s Cycle Shame.” For others less readily offended, it would seem to be a small victory for humans as they are increasingly aided, challenged and ego-bruised by computers.

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