How does video surveillance work

How does legally compliant video surveillance work?

Did you know that Munich is a pioneer when it comes to video surveillance? The first surveillance camera was already in use here in 1958 - that was around 60 years ago. There are now more than 10,000 cameras distributed all over the city, and the number is rising.

Various studies have shown that surveillance cameras increase citizens' subjective feelings of security. On the other hand, there are the basic and personal rights of the monitored citizens. Video surveillance is a double-edged sword.

Things are even more complicated when the camera not only films citizens, but is also supposed to recognize them directly. Is data protection and legally compliant video surveillance even feasible under these conditions?

A data protection and facial recognition project

The data protection research project funded by the Bavarian State Government aims to answer this question e-freedom answer. The project on which, in addition to the Uniscon also the TU Munich, the TÜV SÜD Digital Services GmbH and the Axis Communications GmbH are involved, should find out whether and how data protection and legally compliant video surveillance with facial recognition can be technically implemented in public spaces.

The goal of e-freedom it is to automatically recognize the faces of suspicious people - so-called "threats" - from the images of the surveillance cameras and to alert them if necessary. For this purpose, the system should process the data in a technically sealed environment: The reason for this is that apart from the automatically triggered alarms, no data from the infrastructure may be released to the outside. This must be understandable and, above all, verifiable for the citizens.

The technical challenge of the project, however, does not only lie in the data protection-compliant storage and processing of the data. It is much more important that face recognition provides reliable results.

To do this, two adjusting screws must be applied: the storage and the processing of the data.

"Freeze" and "Thaw" with Sealed Freeze

With storage in the conventional sense, data is permanently stored on a medium. They can be read by anyone who has access to this medium and who has the appropriate reading key. However, this is not desired for personal data. To protect this data, further measures - for example organizational measures - are necessary. But now we know that these can be avoided relatively easily.

Our proven cloud solution Sealed Freeze is therefore used at e-freedom. It provides the right protection with purely technical measures. Because here the "storage" of data is defined as a combination of "freezing" and "thawing": data can be safely "frozen" and only then "thawed" if certain, previously defined rules (so-called "policies") are adhered to become. The transmission of the data and the information to authorized bodies (e.g. authorities seeking information) takes place automatically via an interface. Neither the operator of the data center nor his employees can access it.

Does legally compliant video surveillance even work?

In order to identify suspects, it is necessary to process the images captured by the camera. Algorithms are used that can recognize people's faces amazingly well. However, these algorithms do not work properly. For example, an alarm is triggered even though the identified person is not known to be a threat (“false positive”). It also happens that threats are not recognized (“false negative”).

The task now is to improve these algorithms, which are responsible for image processing, to such an extent that both the false-negative rate and the false-positive rate are minimized as far as possible. To achieve this, the experts combine facial recognition methods with other recognition methods. For example, with a method that recognizes people based on their gait. The chair for human-machine communication at the Technical University of Munich has already carried out extensive preparatory work, which is also being incorporated into the project.

Practical test in the uniscon halls

Even during development, we want to test the e-freedom concept under the most realistic conditions possible: The original plan was to identify a suitable area on the TÜV SÜD AG premises in Munich in which the project participants could set up a test facility.

After a few delays, the test setup was installed in uniscon's Munich offices at the end of 2020. The full evaluation of the project is still pending.

If it turns out that legally compliant video surveillance and facial recognition can actually be implemented technically as above, security in public places such as airports or train stations could be significantly improved. In addition, the personal rights of those affected would also be reliably protected.


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