Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Dr. Kenneth Scott-Brown:
Observer: Magnifying the issues in surveillance.
The initial impression is reminiscent of Wallace and Gromit’s Lunar Robot from a Grand Day Out, albeit perfectly engineered and pristine. The coin operation delivers a simple digital read out showing the viewing target and then the user is faced with a visualisation task that is a quirky mix of reverse ‘etch‑a‑sketch’ and good old fashioned radio tuning. Each twist of the large dial flips the scene, the two hand turned knurled knobs change the ‘X and Y’ position of the image under the ‘scope. The average user has to stoop to get to the right height, and then twist their head to see through the spy hole. Then a close up of the pixel matrix reveals time lapse video of urban rural, indoor scenes. Some local, some national and some international.
The experience changes over the viewing period, initially the browser finds them self debating whether to figure out what is going on in the current scene or change the channel to find out what’s in the next one. This picks up two empirical questions.
Firstly, how much of a scene do you need to see to recognise it? A few flicks and twists help figure this out, one prediction is that on average a diagonal flick across the scene gives the best chance of recognition. The second one is how long do you need to fixate a scene to detect a change? How long in this case does it take to establish that these are live feeds from real CCTV cameras presented in time‑lapse format. It could easily be the case that some users browse so quickly that they don’t ever twig that the scenes change at all.
As a piece of visual art, paradoxically this limited view serves to illustrate the way that the installation is not constrained by the normal conventional boundaries of picture frames (the user gets to move the frame), or the linear limits of video‑based art where the artist has chosen the video frames to transmit their message. The point about Observer is that the interaction risks becoming addictive, there is no limit on the temporal constraint of the visual experience because it permanently and uniquely updates for each viewer.
A powerful underlying thread of themes is conveyed by the installation: there is a pain associated with extended surveillance voyeurism, there is a limit to how much of a scene that can actually be seen, the amount revealed by the ‘peep‑hole’ is much more like the amount of scene revealed by an individual glance of the human eye. This exhibit demonstrates magnifying glass problem or framing effect is a version of the same problem that surveillance operators face. On the one hand they can pan or zoom to find out what just outside the frame, they can multiplex the number of cameras, but there will still be items out of frame; and at the end of the day they can only really monitor one screen at a time.
With the scope of the cameras set to the local and the national level, the piece illustrates the extent and pervasiveness of modern surveillance, what if you recognise someone you know in the footage? What if they are in danger? This is the attraction of the piece, can you detect the unexpected?
You may be aware of the Internet Eyes Ltd cctv game about to launch in the uk - a private company asking private individuals to spy on each other using private cameras connected to the internet, with a cash prize each month for the person who reports the most infringements. There is also the texas virtual border patrol in the US whereby people can log on to the net and watch a live feed of the texas border and report suspicious activity (mostly just suspicious birds or deer). These projects seek to outsource cctv monitoring to members of the public.
A BBC television programme called 'Inside Out' described Internet Eyes as a "revolution" in CCTV despite the fact that it has not yet launched and that the texas virtual border patrol that they compared it to was an enormously expensive failure. Study after study has shown that CCTV does not have a significant effect on crime, so such "revolutions" are ways of ensuring that the public do not focus on the lie that they have been sold. Creating systems that encourage people to watch the world through a monitor and report people they see on the screen actually discourages people from interacting with real people and becoming part of the community they live in.
There have been other citizen spy pilots such as the cable TV channel in East London that showed live feeds of CCTV cameras in the area. All of these seek to make members of the public become the watchers and to become part of the surveillance state. In doing so they hope to normalise people to surveillance and aim to make people ignore the uses that constant monitoring can be put to by the state or corporations.
Perhaps your prototype could be modified to add a jackpot payout tray so that it could be used to play Internet Eyes and collect your prize for dobbing someone in.
I found the viewer to be an interesting idea. I am fairly sure people would be interested in seeing pictures from around the world. I would suspect they would love seeing places that friends and loved ones may live, or of places they were about to go on holiday or had just been to. In general, though, these pictures would be from static cameras.
My concerns were more from a licencing/permissions point of view. I can see that fixed CCTV cameras outside municipal buildings may be an easier option, but local authority and Police cameras would be more difficult to tap into given that CCTV operators have a long list of rules to abide by. Local authority cameras are generally staffed by Police staff who have already gone through a large amount of checks in order to become employed by Police. It is then not just a question of pointing a camera at whatever you like.
CCTV operators are not allowed to follow someone on camera unless they have a good reason for doing so. They cannot watch specific properties unless they have surveillance permissions. They may be directed by officers to watch certain things that may not necessarily be for public viewing.
For instance, if cameras were following perpetrators of crime, public access would not be possible due to data protection issues, not to mention possible vigilante activilty.
Sadly, although Big Brother may constantly be watching, he is bound up in so much red tape that it would be very difficult to gain permission to view the same images.
There is also the very real moral dilema of whether we already have too much surveillance in this country given that other countries would not allow our level of CCTV (Canada - intrusion into civil liberties, etc). However, that is another issue!
Monday, 10 May 2010
I rounded up a few people from the class & within 20mins I had all of my footage. The only bits I had to change are the status screen, because you can see people walking around in the reflection!
So here is the result:
After sending my press release to numerous people, I managed to get my work on various websites - mainly NOTCOT. However, this ended in something that I never expected - my site scrashing! Too many people went onto my site & the server couldn't handle it. Luckily, the server reset at the start of the next month, so there was only one day of downtime.
Tuesday, 4 May 2010
After speaking with my lecturer last week, I have decided to take some more unusual pics. I hung the object on a wire mesh fence & sat it on some pallets to give it an industrial look. Check them out on my Flickr site here. I think they are much better!
For immediate release
by LEE MURRAY
Product Designer Lee Murray has created a new application for CCTV surveillance with his object, The Observer; a public access viewing station allowing any member of the public to watch others through CCTV cameras. The object explores the potential social effects that could arise if all CCTV cameras were monitored by the public. Would people become vigilantes if they saw a crime being committed, would they watch it just for fun, or would they alert the police if there was a cash prize?
Taking inspiration from door peepholes, an everyday spying tool, & amplifying the idea to be used for a nationwide system of surveillance, The Observer creates a unique insight into the act of watching others.
Lee (21) says “At the beginning of the project I became fascinated by mystery, especially in the field of surveillance & spying. I am also very interested in exploring the edge of design & society, so The Observer grew naturally out of this desire to challenge these boundaries & create unique interactions with existing technologies”.
Using web camera & internet technology to bring the concept to life, Lee hopes that ultimately the entire system would be connected to the nations extensive network of CCTV cameras. Constructed from sheet steel & aluminium, The Observer's design has been inspired from classic science-fiction books & films such as Brave New World, 1984 & Brazil.
NOTES TO EDITOR:
Lee Murray (21) is a digital product designer who is passionate about bringing original & humorous ideas to life through experimenting with aesthetics, electronics & software. His philosophy is to make exciting digital objects that create new cultural & social interactions. To see some of his other work, visit www.mrleemurray.co.uk.
Product Design Bsc. (Hons). University of Dundee
The Product Design course teaches its students to create fully functioning products, that work both inside & out. Through the core structure of FIND, PLAY, MAKE, TALK, students learn that making products around people is the key to a well rounded & meaningful project.
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