As we’ve known for some time, Big Brother is watching you, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t get in on the voyeuristic action yourself. In the aftermath of last year’s dramatic week of riots in the United Kingdom, the London Metropolitan Police has released a mobile app that gives users the chance to identify rioters and help police track down suspects that they might otherwise have missed. Yes, now everyone can be a confidential informant – without even having to leave the comfort of their own home!
The app, called Facewatch, is available for free download for iOS, Android and Blackberry devices. Users are asked to enter a London postal code to begin, which will then allow the system to offer up images of unidentified rioters or persons of interest from last year’s riots that were sighted in or around the area included in the postal zone. If the user recognizes oneof the faces, they can tap the screen and enter their name or contact information, which will then be sent confidentially to the Metropolitan Police.
“This is a great opportunity for the public to help us fight crime, and bring those who remain outstanding to justice,” said Met Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley. “My hope is that the two-thirds of Londoners who own smartphones will download this app, and help us identify those suspects we still need to speak to. We need Londoners to browse through the app every week or so as new images will appear regularly, this is a fantastic way for Londoners to help us to fight crime.”
The Facewatch app is a spin-off of previously available Facewatch technology that has been used online for some time; the technology was created by Simon Gordon as a method of reducing the level of petty crime in a wine bar owned by his family; described as “[using] the power of the internet to bridge the gap between CCTV and the Police,” Facewatch has been in operation since 2010 as a website. This new app is the first example of moving the technology onto mobile devices, and was developed with input from civil rights groups, according to Gordon. “Everyone has concerns about a possible infringement of civil liberties but most people also wants to see criminals caught. We talked to these groups and they did not have any concerns that those rights were breached by this Facewatch app,” he explained.
More than 2,880 images have been left unidentified from over 177,000 hours of Closed Circuit television footage taken during the 2011 riots in the British capital alone, and those will form the initial core of the images on offer in the app. In the future, images from other crimes and other locations within the UK are planned to be added.