Europeans will soon be encouraged to use cameraphones to photograph and video criminal activity to send directly to a national police database.
Dutch technology consultancy Waleli has developed MMS-witness, a system which enables citizens to send photographs or movies to a central police database as part of an emergency call.
Once viewed, the photographs or video can be sent to beat officers to increase the chances of a successful arrest or kept as evidence in further investigations.
The concept is in its very early stages. Waleli has conducted a few experiments with police in Rotterdam and is to approach forces in Sweden in conjunction with Ericsson, Waleli chief executive Siete Hamminga told vnunet.com.
Initially the system will be used to allow police and officers from other agencies, for example transport workers, to file pictures and video. But the system has yet to be opened up to the public.
MMS-witness is likely to be piloted regionally with a national roll-out once the service has been proved.
However, there are some major issues which need to be resolved before MMS-witness can be used by the public.
These include dealing with false reports and very large volumes of reports, for example in the event of a terrorist attack when hundreds of people might send in photographs or video footage of the same incident.
"We asked the police about [false reports] and they were less concerned than we were," said Hamminga. "They are used to dealing with spoof emergency calls and anonymous reports."
MMS-witness can be configured to ignore anonymous messages, he added.
Waleli has yet to approach police forces in the UK but expects the system to arouse plenty of interest.
Britain is already one of the most watched societies in the world with one CCTV camera for every 14 people. Britons are caught on camera an average of once every five minutes.
According to market researchers at Gartner, there are 295 million cameraphones in circulation worldwide, so Waleli's system could significantly increase the number of "digital witnesses".
"People see a crime committed and are increasingly deterred from intervening in case they become a victim too," Hamminga told vnunet.com. "This will enable them to do something without putting themselves in danger."
One rising crime that MMS-witness is unlikely to reduce is the theft of mobile phones, unless someone else is around with a cameraphone to film the theft, of course.
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