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Purdue U. system lets police crowdsource cameras to keep eye on crime

Researchers at Purdue University have developed a new surveillance system capable of allowing law enforcement to tap into unsecured cameras around the United States and pinpoint its location for keeping an eye on criminal activity.

Still in its infancy, the prototype system is comprised of two independently developed programs: Visual Analytics Law Enforcement Toolkit (VALET) and Continuous Analysis of Many CAMeras (CAM).

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VALET is a system developed by Purdue researchers in collaboration with local law enforcement that relies on multiple sets of data to help create geographical heat-maps of areas where criminal activity is most prominent.

CAM, on the other hand, is a search engine that can locate public-network cameras and identify details such as its location, orientation, and image quality.

When brought together, VALET and CAM are able to provide a more comprehensive resource for authorities to use in keeping track of criminal activity.

The idea is that rather than local authorities having to put up cameras in every corner, they can rely on a more crowdsourced method for keeping an eye on crime, either before or after it happens. Researchers hope this will help create safer routes for the public in areas with high amounts of crime, as well as provide insight into where more cameras should be placed in the future.

Unsurprisingly, this new development has raised some red flags in the world of privacy advocates, despite the fact that it piggy-backs off information already available to the public.

Gautam Hans, policy counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology, said in speaking to Wired, “I can certainly see the utility…But it does open up the potential for some unseemly surveillance.”

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