Digital World: Candid camera: ‘City Without Violence’

Karmiel and other localities in the near future will be installing closed-circuit-television surveillance.

March 15, 2010 23:37
Karmiel officials sign deal with Motorola for CCTV

Karmiel CCTV 311. (photo credit: .)


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If you live in Karmiel, you might want to bring a basket of cookies or a nice apple pie to your local police chief just to introduce yourself and get to know him. That’s because the police in Karmiel, and many other cities in Israel, are going to get to know you – or at least get to know your face.

Karmiel and other localities in the near future will be installing closed-circuit-television surveillance throughout the town – all the better to keep an eye on miscreants, terrorists and other riffraff.

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So why the cookies? Since the images recorded using the system are likely to be saved and recorded in a facial-recognition database, it’s probably a good idea to preempt being given the wrong label and get on the cops’ “good side.”

The Karmiel CCTV system is part of a nationwide effort called “City Without Violence” that is being implemented in cities around the country. Modeled on similar programs in the United States and Europe (Britain is considered the current “world champion” in CCTV use), the cameras will enable security officers to keep an eye on crowds, sensitive installations and high-crime areas and situations, allowing police to dispatch officers.

The program was first used in Israel several years ago (, but it was deployed in cities in the North and South near the borders, as well as in several high-crime areas. Now the program is set to expand and will include cameras, sensors and other technology to be installed in cities in the center of the country, covering schools, public institutions, parks and residential neighborhoods.

According to the Public Security Ministry, which came up with the idea, the program will make it easier for law-enforcement authorities to catch troublemakers and allow them to “collect information and real-time evidence needed to prevent violence, criminal activity and public disorder.”

Well, nobody likes violence or criminal activity (I’m kind of fond of public disorder, though). And I know there are many people who, after reading this, are murmuring the words “police state.” But I’m betting that many of those people haven’t lived in high-crime neighborhoods, where the residents are more than happy to have as many police and cameras as they can get. Only criminals would be opposed to figuring out better ways to stop crime, right? Besides, we have precedents. Britain has had surveillance cameras for years, and no one could accuse Merry Old England of being a police state!


But there are apparently other problems with the British security surveillance system: According to this article (, it doesn’t work. In some areas with lots of cameras, crime-solving and prevention is lower than in other areas where there are relatively few cameras. That means there are other factors involved, perhaps such as the police skills in those areas. Studies of other surveillance systems ( also indicate they don’t do a good job of stopping crime.

Why? Perhaps, the bad guys in those neighborhoods came across sites like, which supplies readers with tips on how to stay out of Big Brother’s way when sending e-mail, uploading or downloading files, keeping your money away from the government’s grasp, etc. – and keeping out of view of public security-camera systems ( It’s also possible that London has (or will have) a Web site like, where you can map out a route that lets you avoid cameras.

And don’t underestimate the power of the cookie; if the good guys can get on the cops’ good side, why can’t the bad guys? Might buy them some time! (Note, by the way, that all this information is readily available online, so it’s not like I’m giving away any secrets.)

Even though we (hope we can) trust the police to use their powers only for truth and justice, using hi-tech for political purposes is not unheard of ( The folks in the cited article are often involved in violent riots, so one could say that although their cause is political, their actions are criminal, so they deserve what they get. But it’s not too hard to imagine a scenario where police use technology to thwart nonviolent sit-ins and marches because “there is a potential for violence.”

So besides being bad for democracy, camera surveillance systems aren’t very effective as crime stoppers – or terrorism stoppers either – since there’s no reason to believe the system will be any more effective for that kind of wrongdoing than it is for crime.

Does that mean we’re fated to be sitting ducks? Not at all. There are all sorts of hi-tech ideas out there being developed by companies around the world (not a few of them in Israel) that use advanced technology to snuff out terrorists and criminals while leaving the rest of us to live our lives unmolested.

One such company is Israeli startup Genesis EW (, which has developed a system to catch malefactors through their communication activity. The company makes an application that checks the profile of cellphone users, comparing it to activities terrorists and criminals typically engage in: for example, calling known criminals/terrorists, making many frequent short phone calls, or suspects moving outside their usual geographic area. If mobile communication activity fits the profile, law enforcement know they need to keep an eye on the subject (who can be located using cellphone or GPS technology).

“Usually authorities need to know the phone number of the suspect and/or be able to recognize him or her,” says Pini Birman, one of the founders of Genesis EW. “That often makes trailing suspects difficult. But our system examines a user’s communication profile,” meaning it will continue working even if a suspect removes and replaces a phone’s SIM card, a favorite tactic of crooks and terrorists.

“The criminal or terrorist will be unable to confuse the system,” he says, adding that the closer the suspect’s behavior to the profile, the more likely an attack or a criminal act – but if the user veers away from the profile, the system realizes that it was mistaken and takes the subject off the watch list.

All of which means that only those truly worthy of security forces’ attention are observed, and scarce security resources can be used more effectively. Like we said, we’re happy the police are keeping us safe, but, as the old saying goes, “respect them and suspect them.” If there is a better, more effective way to protect us without the use of intrusive cameras, why not use that?

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