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IBM helps Chicago keep an eye on its citizens

Big Blue software to monitor thousands of surveillance cams

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Next time you're in Chicago, say cheese.

Chances are good your likeness will be captured on a futuristic video surveillance system the city is rolling out with the help of IBM and several other tech companies.

Today, officials from Chicago and IBM announced the initial phase of Operation Virtual Shield, which they're trumpeting as one of the most advanced security networks in any US city. It will use IBM software to analyze in real time thousands of hours of video being recorded on more than 1,000 cameras that run continuously.

The project, which has the ability to read license plates and zoom in on items as small as a backpack, comes three weeks after statistics released under a freedom of information request suggested that video surveillance cameras installed in London did little to solve crime in that city. Many professors also say there are no studies that show cameras reduce crime.

While IBM officials refused to say how much the system will cost, they were quick to say it would be boon to the city.

"Cities are faced with ever-increasing threats such as routine crime or terrorist activity and the only way to preventively protect citizens is through a truly sophisticated security surveillance system," IBM vice president Mike Daniels said.

Thousands of security cameras are already being used in Chicago by businesses and police. At least some of them are connected by a unified fiber network and by a wireless mesh. But right now, there aren't enough eyes to monitor them all, and that's where the IBM software comes in. Big Blue says the software will be able to search throughout the network to locate cars or other items under suspicion.

The project is being funded at least partially by the Department of Homeland Security. It is unknown when the system will be fully operational. ®

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