Recovering Overt Surveillance (CCTV) Footage

How difficult actually is it? The quick answer is that it is unnecessarily difficult.

I was prompted to write this post in response to a number of recent press articles detailing how law enforcement are failing to recover video evidence.

I have read a number of comments on social media with various viewpoints but it has been hard to pinpoint a defining answer as to why its so hard.

It is not only law enforcement that find it difficult, believe it or not, a lot of CCTV owners also find it hard to extract required footage from the confines of their Digital Video Recorder.

There are a number of sides to this story with the first one belonging to the manufacturer.

I have written many times on my confusion surrounding why an export has been conducted in such a way. It was not the installers fault. It was not the owners fault. It was not the fault of the person who conducted the export. It was the way the system had been initially designed and built. If a higher importance is given to a DVR’s ability to export data in an evidential manner, many questions and problems could be averted. Let me give you two examples:

  1. A DVR that has no method to extract footage as it was originally recorded. It transcodes everything and resizes it in the process.
  2. A DVR that takes 35 minutes to extract 10 minutes of footage and only accepts a CD-Rom or a 2Gb USB Flash drive.

I could have gone on….. These are just two physical export challenges but the more common issues surround the DVR’s Graphical User Interface and then the export format itself. If navigating the software and then actually being able to export some footage is complicated, guess what – it doesn’t get done. Manufacturers have a duty of care to the owner of their DVR to ensure that if some recorded footage is required by them or others, it can actually be done. It doesn’t matter how much. Be it 10 minutes, 10 hours or everything! With high speed data transfer, there are really no excuses.

Next then we have installers and integrators. These groups also have a duty of care to the owner of a DVR. They should not install a DVR that is not fit for purpose. They should fit a DVR or design a security system that will be able to help everyone involved. Examples:

  1. A large premises have a DVR with a number of cameras, over the years they have requested more cameras and as such required more storage. Upon each request the installer has merely added another DVR and a new set of cameras. It now has 5 DVR’s, of 3 different types. All the times are different. The owner can only network into 1. Can you imagine how hard it is for the on-site security staff to move around their systems and conduct evidential exports from the 5 different DVR’s?
  2. A chain of premises requests video security advice from an integrator. They purchase a networked system and also a very expensive, central archiving service. This was sold to them with the pretence that it would save the stores time and money as the store owners would not need to worry about the DVR’s. What this actually does, is cause more problems. The store managers cannot access the systems to review staff issues, they cannot immediately pass footage to other professional persons and most importantly, in times of serious offences, law enforcement can’t see the footage or even take it to speed an investigation. The system contravenes all current UK Guidelines. Link2, a pdf from 2005 is pretty hard to locate at the moment due to a change in the central repository. I find it’s simple breakdown very easy for anyone to follow. Link 1. Link 2.
  3. An installer purchases a crate of refurbished PC’s. They purchase a bulk buy of PC DVR cards from China. They put them together and then install them into premises with a spec of “High End Computer based DVR”. The Installer, after making some considerable money, then disapears!  – Enough said on that one!

The common theme with those examples is that the installer / Integrator has had their own issues and needs at the forefront of their decision making. It makes things easier for them and makes them more money. The losers are the owner and any subsequent end user.

Next up we have the owner….

You will not believe how many owners do not know how to export some footage. A system is purchased but footage may not be required for some considerable time. In that time, passwords are lost and manuals mislaid. By the time they actually require it, they have no idea how. If they actually figure it out then what do they export. There are many systems that offer a number of choices:

  • The video wrapped inside an executable file.
  • A backup that can only be played on that DVR.
  • A windows media player compatible file.
  • The native video stream.

So, what do they chose? If they get it wrong, by the time the error has been identified, it’s often overwritten.

Who’s next….. The agency that actually requires the footage. Although there are many, to make things easier, lets just look at the Police.

In my opinion, the biggest hurdle in actually recovering some footage is being aware of its existence! Various solutions have been attempted, but the constant change in the landscape has meant that no mapping solutions offer a true picture of where the cameras are and, importantly, what they may offer an investigation. The new Surveillance Camera Codes of Practice is a step in the right direction but until this takes in every camera, it won’t help.

So, once it has been discovered, the challenges caused by all those people beforehand are encountered. With thousands of different systems and operating systems, training and experience is the key, and when someone without the knowledge attempts to recover footage, it can make things much more difficult.

The challenge for Law Enforcement is having the right people in the right place. Those that make the recovery of Digital Multimedia Evidence a priority will thrive as this core role assists everyone. The sooner footage can be recovered correctly and analysed, the sooner an incident can be confirmed and a persons innocence or involvement identified.

Without the true facts and figures it is hard to truly de construct the original article. Suffice to say though that everyone has a part to play and if everyone works together, this type of story could be a thing of the past.

The big players in the manufacturing of DVR’s have a pivotal role. They are the ones with the funded R&D departments that can change the industries direction. The problem though is that they only see themselves and not the bigger, worldwide arena. In order to innovate they need to understand the full industry that they serve. If they are designing equipment that makes no sense then it makes the entire process difficult to manage.

Those installers and integrators that are moving to off site storage and management need to understand that footage must be able to be seen and taken away. It is no good having it in a data warehouse somewhere and then having to wait a number of days before some footage is made available…… and that footage must not be changed. Streaming technologies have started to appear in a number of these networks and the footage that is being offered is NOT the original. It’s entire structure has changed and more often than not, the quality reduced to aid in network transmission.

I hope, as always, that some of the points here have offered some insight into the challenges of recovering a piece of footage. I hope also that someone, somewhere, with the power to change things…actually does!

Have a very Happy Christmas.

By Spreadys Posted in EEPIP

2 comments on “Recovering Overt Surveillance (CCTV) Footage

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