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The Lies of CSI: Survey Exposes Surveillance Myths Created by TV Crime Dramas Versus Reality of Today’s Security Technology

Canadians are hooked on crime dramas, and some shows are so convincing that our perception of what forensic technology can do has been skewed – especially when it comes to video surveillance.

According to a survey by Leger* for Axis Communications, the global leader in network video surveillance, 68% of Canadians said they watch crime dramas like CSI, Criminal Minds, Castle and Law and Order. Of those surveyed, most believe image enhancement techniques and intelligent software are readily available to help law enforcement easily identify suspects. Yet nearly 75% of surveillance cameras sold worldwide today remain analog (IHS Research), which is why security video often shown on the evening news is grainy and of poor quality, making identification difficult.

Key findings of the survey include:

  • 71% of Canadians think recorded surveillance footage can be enhanced in a lab using software.
  • Most Canadians have very little idea how long surveillance video is generally stored, with 27% admitting they have no idea and 26% believing video is stored indefinitely.
  • Three-quarters of Canadians believe facial recognition software can easily pick individual faces out of a crowd for identification, with crime drama fans even more likely to believe this.

“When TV crime technicians produce an accurate photo of a suspect from the reflection off someone’s sunglasses, it makes for good entertainment but it’s not realistic,” said Bob Moore, country manager, Canada, Axis Communications. “IP camera innovations have improved image quality and image usability exponentially, but if police are dealing with low-resolution video common in the real world today, there is nothing that can be done to enhance the image.”

The surveillance industry is currently undergoing a shift from analog CCTV to IP video, with IP cameras expected to begin out-shipping their analog predecessors in 2017. This is because IP video offers much improved functionality closer to the technology shown on TV, including HDTV-quality video, ease-of-use, speed of forensic search, intelligent analytics and low-light recording in color.

Surveillance Cameras: Myths vs. Reality

Myth: Surveillance video quality can be enhanced in a lab using software.
Reality: “What you see is what you get,” said Moore. “If you don’t start out with high resolution video, enlarging it will result in a bigger, blurrier, more pixelated image. Video clarity cannot be fixed after the fact. As a rule of thumb, an image must supply 80 pixels from ear to ear to ID a face.”

Myth: Surveillance video is stored indefinitely.
Reality: “In Canada, there are no legal guidelines regarding how long surveillance video is stored, but as a general rule 31 days is the average most video is stored before being overwritten. After all, it is data,” said Moore. “In practical terms, it’s really an issue of storage and how much an organization has available to keep. Video that is pulled to be used as evidence in a case, however, could be kept indefinitely.”

Myth: Facial recognition software can pick someone out of a crowd.
Reality: “There have been impressive strides in facial recognition analytics, but it is not as prevalent as TV producers would have you believe. The technology works best in controlled conditions,” said Moore. “Some buildings employ facial recognition software to automatically open doors for authorized people, but the person must look directly into the camera and, most importantly, their faces must be stored on a database for comparison. This is much different than picking a random face out of a moving crowd.”

Myth: Most surveillance is monitored in real time.
Reality: “The opposite is actually true,” said Moore. “Ninety-nine percent of security video is deleted without ever being seen. Of the video that is seen, only one percent of that is viewed live. Most security video is not monitored live by a person because of the expense involved. Thankfully innovations in IP video are moving video surveillance from a forensics-only tool to a proactive one.”

“Today’s IP cameras offer more flexibility and advantages than older analog models and hopefully provide real Canadian crime fighters with the images they need to do their jobs,” said Moore. “While it was good to see that 47% of Canadians do not believe crime dramas provide an accurate depiction of how security equipment is used, one-third still believe these myths to be true. With IP video, we’re vastly ahead of the quality and ability of outdated analog CCTV, but haven’t yet caught up to Hollywood.”

*Editor’s note: A survey of 1,500 Canadians was completed online between October 29 and 31, 2013, using Leger’s online panel, LegerWeb. A probability sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20.

About Axis Communications
Axis offers intelligent security solutions that enable a smarter, safer world. As the global market leader in network video, Axis is driving the industry by continually launching innovative network products based on an open platform—delivering high value to its customers and carried through a global partner network. Axis has long-term relationships with partners and provides them with knowledge and ground-breaking network products in existing and new markets.

Axis has more than 1,600 dedicated employees in more than 40 countries around the world, supported by a network of over 60,000 partners across 179 countries. Founded in 1984, Axis is a Sweden-based company listed on NASDAQ OMX Stockholm under the ticker AXIS.
For more information about Axis, please visit our website

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