Using the cloud for surveillance

Cloud computing has long been credited for delivering greater scalability, reduced costs, and easier access to applications. Industry experts have called it the most exciting and disruptive force in the tech market in the last decade and, according to analyst firm Forrester, 2017 will see more enterprises moving to the cloud in a big way.

However, while many organisations are fully embracing the cloud, some markets are still lagging far behind. Earlier this year, we explained how the corporate CCTV sector has been reluctant to adopt any sort of cloud model. What we are seeing is the public sector take steps towards using the cloud, with the Metropolitan Police recently announcing plans to issue body-worn camera systems to over 22,000 frontline officers and use the cloud to store CCTV footage indefinitely.

This latest move provides many of the advantages expected from any cloud system such as lots of storage and scalability. Like any cloud users, the police can store as much visual data in the cloud as they need (provided they are not keeping personal sensitive information for longer than necessary as directed by the ICO), and they can choose to pay only for what they use.

However, the Metropolitan Police is only just dipping its toes in the water. The cloud can do so much more, and it’s not just the emergency services that can benefit. Other organisations such as housing associations and care homes are already using many more advanced features of cloud technology in their visual surveillance.

These features include:

Motion detection – through APIs, businesses can use the cloud to trigger recordings only when motion is detected, minimising bandwidth use without compromising quality. Some cloud-based systems can be configured to record data and alert their users when triggered from almost any type and combination of external influences or sensors.

Federation of data – organisations can dynamically connect a cloud CCTV system to both old analogue cameras and newer 1080p IP cameras. There is no need to rip and replace cameras or cabling. In addition, the system can be integrated with external alarm sensors and device actuators.

Advanced security – the latest systems enable existing analogue or digital CCTV cameras to transmit data securely to the cloud via an encrypted tunnel. Once stored, HTTPS/TLS and 256-bit AES encryption ensure the data remains secure. Footage can be viewed by authorised users from any location using their smartphones, tablets or PCs, or downloaded to provide evidence to the police or other authorities if required. This means there is no longer a need for local or network video recorders.

Flexibility – visual data can be viewed in real time or historically, with search criteria and parameters used to reduce the amount of footage that requires reviewing. Furthermore, system features such as data deletion, data forwarding, live view and dynamic camera scheduling can be easily varied per user and recording parameters such as motion detection zones and redacted areas can be easily varied per camera to ensure the system retains its compatibility with purpose.

Finally, with any surveillance or cloud system, organisations must adhere to the regulations associated with transferring and storing data. Data protection is a fundamental concern to any business which holds personal information – both written text and CCTV recordings. Breaching the regulations has serious consequences including fines, bad publicity and even criminal sanctions.

Organisations must ensure compliance with the Data Protection Act (DPA). This includes only collecting personal data when there is a legitimate reason for doing so (like detecting crime), using and keeping data only to fulfil its purpose, and securely storing recordings in order to prevent unauthorised access and hacking.

They also need to prepare for the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), an even tighter regulation that comes into effect in May 2018. Serious breaches could see organisations facing fines from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) of up to €20 million or 4% of turnover, whichever is higher, so it is vital to begin implementing GDPR compliant policies and processes now.

To summarise, using the cloud for surveillance brings a number of benefits but there are points for organisations to consider, which the ICO explains in detail in its Code of Practice. When correctly implemented, the cloud is an extremely effective and secure method for visual surveillance to protect corporate assets and people. And crucially, it can be used to consolidate CCTV systems across an enterprise and make compliance with the DPA workable and effective.

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