Smile! You're on a crowdsourced, crime-fighting camera.
Britain's police force has unveiled a new app titled "Facewatch" that aims to empower anyone with a smartphone to identify criminals and file a police report soon after a crime happens. The Associated Press reports the app comes loaded with nearly 5,000 pictures of suspects. Once users enter a zip-code, the app narrows down images of suspected criminals for that particular region. Facewatch users can then browse images and submit names of suspects they recognize.
Shops and bars with video security systems are also able to upload clips of criminals filmed in the act, where police can then assemble them, along with digitally-collected witness statements, to quickly create an online dossier. Facewatch is primarily targeted at stopping low-level crime such as shoplifting and bag-snatching, according to a press release.
As crime victims upload their statement, Facewatch also offers contact information to easily cancel and reissue credit cards, and provides initial data for an insurance claim.
The Independent reports that Metropolitan Police hope the new system will let them identify criminals from last year's riots in London. According to CNET, which cites Britain's "bobbies," "29 suspects have already been apprehended during trials of the app."
“My hope is that the two-thirds of Londoners who own smartphones will download this App, and help us identify people we still need to speak to," assistant commissioner Mark Rowley of Scotland Yard's specialist crime and operations division told The Indepenent. “We need Londoners to browse through the App every week or so as new images will appear regularly. This is a fantastic way for Londoners to help us to fight crime.”
If the new app succeeds, Big Brother may be poised to grow a lot, well, bigger. Citizens in the UK are already subject to some heavy-duty surveillance: Though a precise count of the UK's security cameras is hard to come by a study conducted in March of 2011 counted 1,853,681. Or, as The Guardian points out, at least one camera for every 32 citizens.