You know the scene: The two head detectives are closing in on a suspect for a suspenseful murder case. They find some surveillance footage with what might be the suspect’s face. Detectives pull up a still shot and someone says, “Enhance that Image.” and suddenly the suspect’s square-shaped pixelated forehead looks like a perfect headshot from the glamour photographer at the mall.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it really goes down. In fact, Hollywood has instilled many false ideas in us about how surveillance and security actually works in real life. For example, in real life, if an image has a low resolution (that’s what makes them look so blurry) there’s no enhancement program or button (or ferocious-sounding keystroke) that suddenly gifts the image with 2 million extra pixels, rendering it clear as day. Here are another few myths you might be wondering about:
Surveillance Video is Stored Indefinitely
On many shows, detectives or police officers will ask store owners to pull up camera footage from 2 or even 6 months ago. The characters never seem to have a problem finding this footage, but in real life, most camera systems are designed to store about 30 days of footage before it starts overwriting itself. Why? Because you would need a huge (and constantly growing) amount of hard drive space to keep footage for that long.
Someone is monitoring the Cameras at all times
Lots of people assume that for every surveillance camera they see, there’s a security guard sitting in a dark room somewhere looking at a wall of monitors, snacking on powdered sugar doughnuts while scanning for crime and injustice. This is also misleading. Besides high-security applications, there usually isn’t someone designated to this job simply because of its expense. If a crime is committed, management can easily go and search for the footage from their recorder.
Facial Recognition Software can pick someone’s face out of a crowd
Although facial recognition software has come a long way- it’s not exactly as advanced as television producers want you to think. It is used in some applications as a form of access control, but the person attempting to gain access would have to stand still and look directly into a camera for the system to recognize the user’s face.
So maybe we can’t do everything they show us in the movies or on TV, but we can provide the next best thing.