## Problems Counting People?

Implementing COVID Regulations

Here in the Netherlands the University system just reopened after a short lockdown (again). There are still restrictions on how many people are allowed into rooms however, a maximum of 75 in any single space. This ruling was introduced last year, and led to some developments that might be of interest to technology fans (and privacy fans I should add).

Counting people manually as they enter and leave a room is a time consuming and expensive approach, so two universities had the idea of using cameras and artificial intelligence to check how many people are in buidings and individual spaces.

Utrecht University ran a trial, while Leiden placed 371 cameras on the walls above the doors to each space.

The Leiden approach however caused a bit of a stink. The cameras were all placed and set up while the students were locked out of the building, the ideal time we might say, to be having people up ladders in front of doors. But such an approach can also be seen as trying to do something without too many people noticing.

And that is how some of the students saw the arrival, and a couple started to investigate for an article in the weekly University student magazine.

Counting entries and exits, well nobody could be against that! The University has to do it by law. So discussion grew around the methods and the cameras and the data.

The university had bought 371 cameras from the Swiss manufacturer Xovis, 600 euro a piece. So the question is what can (and do) they register?

According to company spec, the system is capable of:

Counting students

Following their individual routes

Calculating an individual’s height

Estimating age

Suggesting mood (is an individual happy or angry)

Determining who is a staff member

Counting numbers in groups

Now these types of cameras are already in use in airports and shopping centres, to minimize waits (among other things) and to try and calibrate advertising and work out the actual moment that someone choses to buy something. So such data does offer broad analysis possibility.

The slogan used by the manufactures maybe lets the cat out of the bag a bit: ‘Way more than people counting.’

The cameras can of course be set to different levels of data collection and privacy, from level 3 fully anonymous (just numbers of people), to 0, which is a livefeed of the images.

Some Questions

Now I am no expert, but one problem seems to me to be that the system records lots of data, that at some point someone filters before providing their dataset to the customer. Who, when, under which circumstances, who manages security of access, there are a lot of issues here. But they are not all negative. Such a system may be of use in a terrorist incident for example, or other sorts of emergency. You could see why something more expansive might be chosen over a system that just counts movement. But there is a moral as well as practical dilemma in choosing such an overkill solution to a simple problem.

The report the student investigators published in the weekly university magazine showed lots of security issues, and there were protests from the students who wanted the system taken down. Both Utrecht and Leiden have now stopped using the cameras.

But that is not a good result from a responsible innovation perspective. Lots of money was wasted, many people got upset, two sides of an argument were constructed that are at loggerheads with each other.

A change in public participation techniques might have avoided all of this. A lesson to be learned I feel. Informing without debate doesn’t work.

You can read the student report here and a local newspaper report here. All in Dutch though, so you might have to use some translation software.

## Mind Your Language in front of the TV

### Privacy

I have a friend who puts tape over the webcam on his laptop while he is working, because he believes that people can hack into his computer and watch what he is doing. I must admit I thought it was a bit strange at first, but then hunting information I discovered that it was not only possible, but a well known crime involving organized gangs.

The UK recently took down a Russian website that was showing live webcam, taken without the knowledge of the people that were taking the footage. The incident not only involved security cameras, but all types of baby monitors and practically anything that has a camera and transmits data wirelessly.

### Smart TV

But this is small fry really when you read this week’s news. A large TV manufacturer which has a product that recognizes voice controls seems to have been transmitting everything said in front of the TV to a third party.

They do this so that said third party can sieve through the words used to see if a command has been given. But there are many unanswered questions. Who is the third party? What are they doing with my data? Is it secure? The list goes on.

But said company are not trying to hide what they are doing:

Voice Recognition

You can control your SmartTV, and use many of its features, with voice commands.

If you enable Voice Recognition, you can interact with your Smart TV using your voice. To provide you the Voice Recognition feature, some voice commands may be transmitted (along with information about your device, including device identifiers) to a third-party service that converts speech to text or to the extent necessary to provide the Voice Recognition features to you. In addition, ******* may collect and your device may capture voice commands and associated texts so that we can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features. Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.

I am not sure that everyone who buys a TV of this type reads the Global Privacy Policy – SmartTV Supplement however, and they might be giving away a lot more than they would like to without knowing.

The BBC carries an article about this news with all of the names included. I think it is probably true though that if one company do it, then so do all the others.

## Radar Searches of Private Houses

### Police Use

I think it is fair to say that the police force don’t have an easy job. News is coming out of the USA though of a new controversy. Many forces have apparently issued officers with hand held radars like the one in the picture above. These radars can be used to determine if a house is occupied or not.

Now as we might imagine this is military technology. No longer do you have to get your head blown off as you open a door to find the enemy inside with a weapon. No you can use your radar. You hold it against the outside off the building and it will tell you how many people are inside the building, where they are, and if they are moving, still, breathing, etc.

And this is great technology for fire fighters too. No longer will they have to risk sending people in to burning houses to see if anyone is inside, this machine will help them determine that the building is empty, or if the person inside is moving or even breathing.

And so certain police forces have started to use them. But things are a little different for the police. They have to have permission to search a house, and it is up for debate if the use of such a tool represents a search. There have been other similar instances, including determination that (in the USA) the use of heat imaging technology does constitute a search and even leading a police “sniffer” dog onto the front porch requires a warrant.

### Privacy and Dual Use

So once again we reach a fine line, safety on the one side, and privacy on the other. And at the moment we are talking about government institutions using such devices. I am sure a certain section of my local community wouldn’t mind having one too, particularly those who like to steal computers from other people’s property while they are away.

But we should also remember that we live with military cast offs every day. The Internet itself is a military tool, both in terms of its development and current use. And even the search engine TOR and some of the things that are sometimes seen as unsavoury, benefit from their interactions with various secret service organizations. And nanotechnology development in the USA has greatly benefited from defense money.

There are plenty of articles available if you search this topic, some more technical than others, so I won’t attach any links and you can find your own.