Linked CCTV cameras an expensive pipedream

Local security experts and IT vendors dismissed a proposal for a massive, digital video surveillance anti-terrorist system as an expensive pipedream and gargantuan data integration nightmare.

Victorian Premier Steve Bracks suggested the system last week and has called for proposals for commonwealth funding to assist and support a comprehensive and networked rollout of digital video surveillance cameras linking all such data collected nationally.

John Peterson, managing director of technology integrators Advanced Technology Products, said the task could be feasible but would be hugely expensive with potential for contractual lock-in if proprietary systems were chosen over open imaging standards.

"There would be enormous dollars involved and big money not only in the initial contract but in the ongoing revenue stream," Peterson said.

"If you used an open protocol for the images then that would avoid being locked into proprietary hardware and software; you would need a flexible system to integrate with other systems as the data gets scrambled by proprietary systems.

"If you become locked into a proprietary system, you deny yourself the advantage of what the future will bring."

Director of the Australian Homeland Security Research Centre, Athol Yates, said a move to a national, linked video surveillance system is both physically and financially unviable.

Even if all necessary databases were interoperable, the huge issue of upgrading legacy CCTV cameras would be both costly and time consuming, he said.

"It would be complicated and expensive but not just because of technology - issues like bandwidth for transporting images and protocols for sharing the information across different states all mitigate against this approach.

"As soon as you start overlaying the potential for intelligent surveillance to use facial recognition or tracking unusual movement you are taking a standard system and giving it intelligence and you may have to consider retrofitting cameras, which gets very expensive."

Aldo Borgu, operations and capability program director at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), said the talk of linking CCTV cameras together is "bandwagonism" post-London bombings. Borgu said even if such a system was created to combat terrorism, the technology still works best after any such unfortunate incident occurs.

"A CCTV might inhibit activity but the bottom line is a terrorist will get an idea of where the camera is and target elsewhere," Borgu said.

Borgu estimated the cost of such a system to be in the billions.

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