« No Pardon For Par | Main | Coon Rapids Man Accused of Fraud »

Intelligent Cameras on Campus

Surveillance cameras at the University of Minnesota are more sophisticated than ever.
The school is testing cameras that can detect human behaviors.
The system cannot predict crimes, but it will alert authorities of any criminal-like activity.
An article http://wcco.com/crime/local_story_262184618.html posted Wednesday on WCCO.com offers some good details on how the new cameras work:

"The system tracks 18 different behaviors -- including lurking. Squares on a computer screen show people moving around. If a person bumps into someone else's square or if a square just stands still, it will alert the system."

According to the same article, there are six of these cameras on the Washington Avenue Bridge and five more located around campus.

The camera system costs $24,000, and the university will test them for six months.



The September 19th article on WCCO.com was not based on any public documents, but it was written using information provided by university security officials. Wayne LaMusga, information technology specialist at the Department of Central Security, is quoted frequently in the article. Mr. LaMusga was contacted both by email and phone, but he refused to comment further for the purposes of this web blog. Attempts to contact the two students interviewed in the story had similar results. Although the topic is not a controversial one, people seem wary about having a student writing about their thoughts rather than a professional news outlet. Nonetheless, WCCO managed to find people who were willing to open up to their questions. The article itself was objective, and its language did not promote the new system. In fact, the article brought to light some of the pitfalls and potential disadvantages of having behavior-recognition technology. WCCO practiced good news judgement by interviewing students because this story affects them the most. It might have been nice to get reactions from "experts" along with students, but the article's intention was not critical analysis. It was written to inform, and it accomplished this.


One of the students interviewed in the WCCO story replied to my email query this afternoon (Sept. 24). Her comments are quite fascinating. Here is the email (concerning the fairness of the article, TV coverage etc.):

Well, I felt a little taken out of context, given that I actually had much
more to say than that... but they got the jist of it. I disliked the
cameras. What bothers me more than the cameras themselves, though, is that
they didn't tell the students they were installing them. Perhaps they
didn't even tell the staff. They were installing the cameras that very day
I was interviewed, and I didn't know what was going on until the Channel 4
reporter came up to me with the microphone and told me. How can I have a
fully informed and accurate opinion on something and how am I supposed to
feel safe about something which my school does without my knowledge. I feel
insulted by the school, even if no evil comes of the new software. We have
a right to know what's going on around here. And what are these cameras
going to flag as innappropriate? Friends shoving each other playfully?
Couples walking hand in hand or kissing? People who are just clumsy could
get accused of assault. I'm all for preventing suicides and crimes, but
will it even make a difference? They need to explain what exactly the
software and those observing it are going to mean for us. Or we have every
right to feel threatened. And how much money is this costing? How does it
impact tutition. I have so many questions! I'm not terrified or anything,
but I am ticked off and a little insecure. Thanks for sending me the links.
I really appreciate it. I was wondering if I'd ever see it for myself. :)
-Talia Carlton