Vanda Lewis

Posted by PH on July 08, 2007

I did an unusual job last week for the South Wales Evening Post. They were running a story on a woman named Vanda Lewis who had been accused and convicted of benefits fraud. Most of the evidence had been gained from the CCTV system installed at the Neath Civic Centre, and the SWEP wanted to include excerpts from the footage as a video podcast.

I received a couple of CDs that included the CCTV footage. This isn’t actually video: the system is simply taking stills once a second. These are then played back within a proprietary software package that shows two camera feeds simultaneously:

The software appears to have been created by a company called Neurodynamics, but according to their website they’ve been bought out by a company called Virage (who in turn are owned by Autonomy). As you can see from the screenshot above, it’s just a basic utilitarian PC package. Aesthetics just don’t come into it. Beneath the generic transport buttons you can see the list of images: this list scrolls as the ‘footage’ plays.

The question was: how do we turn this stuff into video? There was no obvious way to do it from within the software: the images were all contained within a proprietary file, and the export button didn’t seem to do anything useful. I opted to simply to use some screen capture software, and in the end used Camtasia Studio 4. I’d never used it before, but with the help of their online tutorials was quickly able to get some usable output. Although I didn’t need it for this project, I also noted that it allowed you to output video in a custom Flash player—which is neat—and also allowed you to export SCORM-compatible e-learning materials! A well-thought out and very useful piece of software.

vanda lewis

Quite an unusual little project, and one that gave me some insight into the rather clandestine world of these corporate surveillance companies. Of course issues of privacy and the state-sponsored monitoring of our activities are highly topical now, but I’m not sure I’ve got anything original or informative to add to the debate. However:

Because of the potential for being watched we begin to internalize the constraints of the system into our own behaviour patterns and our consciences: we in effect adopt the goals of the system.

P. David Marshall

Needless to say I found it all a bit spooky…

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