Third World Tomorrow

Some Half baked ideas, with the intention of trying to enhance the standard of living of the third world without the American-style gas guzzling. Prosperity will only be a consequence of efficiency. The developing world has limited resources. They must be used to the fullest. We explore exciting possibilities - in not just energy technologies, but any other technologies that help us use our extremely scarce resources better.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Stopping Crime (and Corruption ?)

Corruption and crime are impediments in the path of progress of all developing nations. The already insufficient law enforcement infrastructure of these countries just cannot cope up with spiraling crime rates. Rapists go scot-free; murderers too. Recovering stolen automobiles may just be forgotten about. Bribes may just be thought of as an unofficial part of the economy.

The scenario might look quite gloomy right now. But, I do believe that there is hope. Surveillance.

For, the price of video cameras is dropping day by day. You can get a cheap thingamajig (of the web-cam variety) for less than $20 (or 1000 Rupees). Also, it's bound to be cheaper when you order in bulk. Suppose you install them all over the city (covering all public spaces) and link them to various terminals monitored by cops in distributed control rooms, and keep the videos recorded for a week or so. (After all, memory is cheap now-a-days). 10,000 cameras would cost a paltry 1 crore - a sum which is not even a small fraction of the total crime that this will help prevent. We would roughly need 20Terabytes of Memory, available dirt cheap today.

Suppose a crime were committed. Even if the incident were not monitored by a cop, it would be recorded. The pertinent file can be recalled and the criminal could be recognized subsequently. This would, surely, bring about a virtual stop to almost all crime in public urban areas. (In this respect, India has it easy, as our cities are small and our population densities are phenomenal - a smaller number of cameras would cover a lot more people).

This would, for one, help in convicting the guilty in court. Lots of people have been acquitted for want of evidence. Any all-pervasive surveillance would change all that.

For personal security, it is proposed that all houses (and automobiles) come equipped with an electronic "black box". In the case of a home, it may be hidden in an unspecified location, storing surveillance data continuously. In case of an automobile, it may establish a wireless link with a cell phone company.

Such measures would be considered draconian in the U.S.A. But when you look at the rut that most third world countries seem to be in, such drastic measures would actually end up protecting civil liberties.

One must bear in mind that it is excessisve sbooping of this kind that has proven invaluable to the London police in the recent London explosions. This idea isn't new, in that respect. It's just that it is an idea just right for the third world - especially the rapidly growing parts of the third world, like India.

Your comments are welcome.


  • At 12:03 PM, Anonymous Harsh said…

    As far as i understood u r recommending the third world countries (TWC) to use video cameras for survilience in order to reduce the crime rate.

    Well, before suggesting the TWC to use it one should first recommend the use of it in US of A. I belive that college station is safe but if u look into Baltimore, NYC, Chicago, LA and many other cities in US of A, lots of crimes happening in these cities could be stopped by the use of survilience cameras.

    Now the question arrives, why USA is not using it? is it because they are dumb and british officials in london are smart, or r there any practical issues related to it.

    I can easily imagine a criminal going under the camera so that he is not spotted and then just put a thick cloth over it. And then proceeds to insish a crime. At the end of the crime, he takes the camera out and go ahead to sell it in the black market.

    Above is posible in US with very high probability. Now lets go back and look at the cost of security. With lifetime of every camera as 1 month ( highly optimistic estimate) govt has to spend $20 per month for the security of very very small neighbourhood. If you go ahead and convert it into currency of any TWC, the mantinance cost will be outrageous.

    Moreover use of camera will only idetify the criminal who is not wearing any mask. Cameras wont go aead and stop the crime.

    Now lets see under what circumstances video camera based survilience will be useful :
    1) criminal has to be really dumb. he should not cover his face during the crime.
    2) cost of employing any secutiy personel should be at least 50 times than the cost of new camera. Camera will cover over a very small area. Even with the camera system a security personnel is required to sit in the headquater and a security personnel is required for patrol so that he can go and stop the crime.

  • At 1:17 PM, Anonymous Harsha said…

    Rap,one thing that would be a big hindrance in implementing your idea is the issue of privacy.There are going to be voices raised regarding the use (or misuse) of this kind of security.

  • At 4:02 PM, Blogger Akhilesh said…

    Harsha: Privacy - a public place is not expected to be private. At least in the third world, privacy concerns are not that important. Won't work in the US, though, for the reasons that you mention.

    Harsh: 1 camera a month? I think these things can last for a few years at least! (I mean, all the surveillance cameras I have seen seem don't seem to go into maintenace often).

    I can appreciate the mask funda ... but I still think the camera will act as a deterrent.

    Think about this. A person wearing a mask will immediately look suspicious in a park: people will take notice. Lots of crimes will be prevented (not all) because of the cameras.

    Plus, the "masked" people can be traced as they make their get-away using different cameras - and lots of important information can be recovered.

    Posting 10,000 policemenm 24x7 is not possible! We don't need cops monitoring this all the time - all we need is a mechanism to recall a video given a time and a place - which can be done by storage.

    I don't think the argument that a person can "steal" the cameras holds water - methods can be devised to stop them - like putting the cameas in a locked grill box, for one. Street lights don't get stolen all the time, do they? These cameras can be mounted on poles too.


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