Vumacam Says Joburg Smart Cameras Not Driving AI-Powered Apartheid

Vumacam Says Joburg Smart Cameras Not Driving AI-Powered Apartheid

"The iSentry system is completely non-biased. It is not pre-programmed to identify race. Unlike many other behavioural analytics software, iSentry is one of only a few that do not have any preprograming of what is deemed to be unusual behaviour thus removing any forms of programmed-in bias."

Vumacam, South Africa's video management provider, says its integrated smart camera network across the City of Johannesburg is not driving an AI-power

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Vumacam, South Africa’s video management provider, says its integrated smart camera network across the City of Johannesburg is not driving an AI-powered Apartheid in the country.

The company issued a statement to clarify what it terms “misinformation” circulating via various platforms and media outlets regarding the Vumacam integrated smart camera network.

The report by VICE says Vumacam has been quietly assembling a “smart” CCTV surveillance network in the suburbs of Johannesburg, which is now driving artificial intelligence-powered apartheid in South Africa.

For more read: Smart CCTV Networks Are Driving an AI-Powered Apartheid in South Africa

In one of the world’s most racially divided countries, a company called Vumacam is building a nationwide surveillance network that scrutinizes peoples’ movements for “unusual behaviour”, reads the report.

But what constitutes “abnormal behaviour detection” appears to be racially biased in a region where security officers disproportionately target people of colour.

Vumacam says it does not have facial recognition technology-enabled in its street cameras, does not profile, and the organisation takes data security and privacy seriously.

Vumacam has built the infrastructure to host an integrated smart camera network to assist with crime-fighting initiatives across the city of Johannesburg.

“We acknowledge that the country is grappling with a crime pandemic and are confident that our integrated network of street CCTV cameras will go a long way to tackle crime. Not only as a deterrent but also to effectively apprehend perpetrators and do our part, working collaboratively with law enforcement, to get criminals off the streets.” Said Ricky Croock, Vumacam CEO.

One of the core reasons why Vumacam was created was to develop a single, regulated network of cameras that are compliant with personal information protection legislation, the company says.

DO WE PROFILE?

The majority of our customers use a software called iSentry, the company says.

“The iSentry system is completely non-biased. It is not pre-programmed to identify race. Unlike many other behavioural analytics software, iSentry is one of only a few that do not have any preprograming of what is deemed to be unusual behaviour thus removing any forms of programmed-in bias,” claims Vumacam.

The company said iSentry utilises unsupervised Artificial Intelligence to monitor pixels, so if it detects unusual formations of pixels, that are different to what it observes 24/7 it will send an alert to the security company control room where the company can monitor the situation to determine if it requires intervention.

“The alerts could be triggered, for example, if someone trips over as they walk, or someone being attacked and mugged in the street. Both incidents will generate an alert. The alert can then be looked at by the security company and either be dismissed or monitored to determine if medical attention is required, while the other can trigger further actions to apprehend a criminal.

“The software used minimises human participation in the monitoring process, and therefore minimises human bias such as race or gender.”

The cameras also scan number plates; if there is a wanted or stolen vehicle’s number plate and that vehicle passes a Vumacam, an alert will be sent out to the security companies and law enforcement authorities, in partnership with Business Against Crime operating in that area, it said.

“Often criminals use stolen vehicles to commit secondary crimes. These can be prevented before criminals can commit that crime. This will also assist in recovering stolen vehicles and the perpetrators can be apprehended. The Vumacams are there to provide the infrastructure and video service to promote safer neighbourhoods.

“What is important about this connected network of cameras is that security responders can track these wanted or stolen vehicles in real time as they pass through the entire network, this vastly increases the likelihood of apprehending the suspects.”

VUMACAM RESPECTS THE PRIVACY OF CITIZENS

At Vumacam we understand the concerns of the public as it relates to privacy and we respect the rights of citizens to privacy as enshrined in our Constitution. We do not invade anyone’s private space or property.

“Our cameras are not spying on citizens or collecting data for any kind of marketing analytics purposes,” Vumacam says.

“They face a specific direction and monitor public spaces to serve as a crime prevention and public safety mechanism.”

FACIAL RECOGNITION

Some commentators have gone so far as to allege the cameras utilize facial recognition technology to surveil private citizens and monitor their comings and goings.

“We can categorically confirm that this is not true. Our street cameras are not facial recognition cameras and we do not utilise facial recognition technology in any of our Vumacam street cameras. They are fixed cameras that do not zoom or tilt. They monitor a fixed public area,” it claims.

Vumacam says it is not building databases on any particular citizen and have no intention of doing so at any point in the future.

“While all number plates passing a camera are scanned, only if the plate is present on a database of known vehicles of interest (for instance the SAPS Unicode database of stolen and wanted vehicles) will an alert be generated to the security company. Once they receive this alert, they can access the image and decide on the appropriate course of action.”

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