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DHS tests bomb-proof CCTV by blowing up bus

Pop quiz, hotshot. Everybody's dead, what do you do?

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Depressing news for extremist privacy lovers today: a cheap CCTV camera which can reliably survive a large bomb explosion with video recordings intact has been developed. It's no longer possible to cover one's tracks by simply blowing everything up.

News of the new cheapo bombproof surveillance cams comes to us courtesy of - you guessed it - the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS didn't develop the kit, but did help test it by blowing up a bus with sixteen of the prototype ruggedised spyeyes aboard (vid below). Each camera's memory chip had been preloaded with video files in order to see how much was retained.

According to the DHS, engineers trawling through the wreckage after the bus blast were able to recover fourteen of the chips in working order. On these chips, "every video minute on there was without degradation," says Stephen Dennis of the DHS Sci/Tech division.

While the recovery of video after a bombing is obviously useful in tracing back perpetrators in the subsequent investigation, Dennis says it also helps with prevention.

"The collection of forensic data from tragic events like bombings helps us develop strategies to prevent the crime in the first place," he argues.

The new cheapo-cams aren't designed for real-time surveillance, having no communications fitted. Their records would only be accessed for forensic purposes after an incident to which the authorities had been alerted by other means. Thus they are much more affordable than normal CCTV, despite being more able to resist blast: around $150-200 a camera, according to Dennis.

Having passed bench tests and survived the exploding-bus trial, the little cameras still have one further DHS gauntlet to run. In order to find out how well they'd survive in a burning vehicle, Dennis and his colleagues intend to bake them in an oven. This last test may be one of the most relevant: "forensically aware" criminals and terrorists often use incendiary bombs specifically to cover their tracks rather than to inflict damage on a target. That said, they usually do this in private vehicles, rather than ones you would expect to contain CCTV*.

The clued-up villain of the future, operating in public spaces, may soon start to find that smoke bombs or other obscurants are a necessary part of his armoury. ®

Bootnote

*For example a van used to launch mortar bombs against a military base (perhaps on a timer) may subsequently be burnt out by an incendiary to eliminate any forensic traces accidentally left behind. Getaway vehicles are commonly burnt out by more ordinary criminals for the same reasons.

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