Last week, the Waveland Board of Mayor and Aldermen heard several concerns from residents about a proposed citywide camera system.
The proposal on last Tuesday’s agenda read: “Motion to approve the proposal from RJ Young/Verkada to provide cameras, software, maintenance, and information storage for a period of 10 years. This is a lease for 60 months at a rate of $2,850 per month. After the 60 months, there will be a $1 buyout ($58 | 58 cameras) for the equipment. The board will then decide to keep the system with a monthly maintenance and license fee not to exceed $700.”
Waveland resident Chad Whitney spoke to the board and also gave board members some textbooks about Artificial Intelligence (AI)
“This is the kind of stuff we’re signing up for,” he said. “This is mathematics, this a lot of matrix work, it comes in a neat software package. It also comes with Pandora’s Box. There’s a problem with AI and part of it is that a lot of the models that are used to build AI are proprietary, so the companies have very good systems to make beautiful AI systems. AI is a term that was coined in the ‘60s. (Alan) Turing talked about whether or not we had an intelligent agent that could pass the Turing test. Whether or not we had a computer that was smarter than a human or could at least fool a human into thinking it was a human.”
Whitney said that AI is getting “better and better and better.”
“And it does some amazing things,” he said. “It can find breast cancer and diabetes faster than any physician. With AI, you can also do facial recognition. We can start to look at people’s faces and identify them. We can start to ask queries about what a person looks like, what they’re wearing, how many people they’re associated with. There’s a lot of power that comes with AI. One of the things we have in the proposal that you guys wrote for the system is an audit trail.”
Whitney said that the city needs to establish who will independently audit the audit trail and look at it.
“If we’re going to look at a system like this, first we need more input, we don’t need to run with it,” he said.
Over the weekend, Whitney said, he went door to door in Waveland and spoke to residents about the proposed camera systems.
He said that the majority agreed that they preferred the city to slow down this process and host a town hall meeting to get feedback before moving forward.
Mayor Mike Smith said that the original intent behind acquiring a camera system was to catch people who vandalize the city’s parks, Lighthouse, and other public property.
“It wasn’t to get your face, your name, or listen to a conversation,” he said. “It was none of that.”
Ward 1 Alderman Jeremy Burke said that law enforcement also expressed an interest in the system, as well.
Ward 2 Alderman Bobby Richardson said that he wants a system that the police chief can access.
“Yeah, everybody’s at the park one day, those cameras probably won’t even be looked at unless there was a crime that day,” Richardson said. “And I’m all for hiring more police officers, but our police officers can’t be everywhere.”
Mimi Dickman, Mississippi territory representative for Verkada, also spoke to the board and public.
She said that if the city contracted with Verkada, there would be a 10-year warranty, which includes 24/7 customer support, camera replacement, and automatic firmware and software updates.
Dickman said that a lot of Verkada’s features including facial recognition and license plate recognition are built as safety features for law enforcement.
It is also used for “proactive notification,” she said.
“For example, if you have someone who’s in the dangerous part of the pier, it can notify someone,” she said. “If you have a tornado or hurricane that knocks down your camera system in certain areas, it’s going to alert you. On top of that, we do have also motion alerts for person-in-vehicle filters and also crowd alerts. So one of those person alerts that I would give you guys an example of would be I work with a school in Alabama. One of those schools had a student go missing from their third-period class and they weren’t sure where she went. The school resource officer, not any employee of the school, but the permissioned user was able to upload a picture of her student yearbook photo and found her getting into a white vehicle. They were actually able to figure out that that was her older boyfriend, rather than a kidnapping that may have happened. A lot of these features are used to give access to the people who we trust. Safety protocols to protect citizens.”
Dickman also described the type of AI Verkada utilizes.
“So we use people detection, what this is detecting is whether someone is a person or not,” she said. “It’s not telling you who that person is, it’s saying it’s a person, not a dog. We have vehicle detection, so that’s detecting whether something is a bush, not a vehicle. It’s not telling you what about that vehicle. We do have face matching. This is not tied to a national database. All this data is the city of Waveland’s data. Not even Verkada uses this information to improve our solution. The last piece is that we do also offer license plate recognition. What this is doing is taking a hyper-zoomed image of the vehicle and it’s taking that license plate number and putting it into a searchable database.”
Dickman said that Verkada has proactive notifications for persons of interest or if too many people are in an enclosed or crowded, limited area.
“This (people attributes) gives only the permissoned users, so I want to emphasize that, that if there is only one individual permissioned to do this, there is only one individual that may do this,” she said. “What they can do is that they search based on your shirt, pant color, whether they are male or female, and if they are wearing a backpack. For the cars, you can search for the type and color.”
Dickman said that the data is stored “only in the Cloud where your organization has access.”
“Verkada does not have access to this, no national database has access to this, only the city of Waveland organization does,” she said. “We do use your data for internal purposes and all this is explicitly written on our websites.”
Dickman also explained how the data is kept secure.
“All of your data is encrypted at rest and in transit, meaning that it’s encrypted when it’s actually on the camera, it’s encrypted when it’s in the Cloud, and it’s encrypted when it’s going from the camera to the Cloud,” Dickman said. “So these encryption keys are rotated monthly and these are essentially the highest encryptions that you can use. The Pentagon uses these same ones.”
She added that from a cybersecurity standpoint, “all of your data is very encrypted.”
“So do we share data with third parties?,” she said. “I wanted to reinforce this because I think it’s important. No. All of your data is actually just for the city of Waveland. This does not integrate with any other systems, whoever has access within your internal city, are the only people who have access to this data.”
“I think that the level of information that we give you guys and the clarity and transparency of where your data is stored is the most important thing when we’re talking about AI,” she said. “I think the reality is that AI is in everything that we’re doing these days. It’s in Facebook. When you go on Facebook and it tells you ‘match yourself with other pictures that look like you’ or ‘tag yourself in other photos,’ that’s AI.”
Dickman said that there is an audit log on every camera and organization.
“So every action that’s been made in this, whether it be by an employee or someone who is permissioned, every single thing is logged here, you do not need an auditor to do it, we do all that in the system for you,” she said.
Whitney asked Dickman about a recent data breach at Verkada.
She said it involved a support server, which is part of its 24/7 customer support system.
“None of the internal data was affected,” she said. “So, none of it was taken. Basically, all that happened was they came in, viewed some of the camera feeds to make a public statement, and then they got off. The way that was actually mitigated from Verkada is that previously, what everyone could do was come to our support tab. Previously, you would open a support ticket and we would be able to come into your support. Now, what that requires is prior consent from the end user. So, if you guys wanted to enable support, what you would do is open a support ticket, a person would chat with you and say ‘hey would you guys enable us access?’ What you’ll do is come into the support tab here and enable access. What that does is that it opens up a one-hour period for a support team to come, mitigate the issue that happened, and then it automatically logs them out. You guys can also log them out at any point, you can specify a time window when they’re allowed, and there’s a full organization audit log. It wasn’t a breach about our product, it wasn’t anything in regards to the encryption of our product.”
Dickman said Verkada gives 24/7, 24 frames per second footage. What the city was quoted on is a 30-day retention camera model.
Dickman said that the city would also have a back up to save anything that was “relevant,” such as a case law enforcement was still investigating.
“So, it’s not like we’re storing faces, we’re storing this data for 10 years, none of that’s being sent to other databases,” she said. “It’s really used for the police department to say, ‘hey, three weeks ago, we had this incident, reported the person looked this way and what we’re going to do is try to isolate that.’’’
Dickman said that when the cameras are turned on, it will say “no analytical results.”
“So, as people start to show up, that’s what’s going to show up is those recent peoples,” he said. “So when I say you guys only have access in the city of Waveland organization. What I’m saying is that nobody from my company has access to this data and nobody from a third party has access to this data, only the individuals within the city of Waveland who are permissioned to use. So, to say whether it’s a visitor or a citizen, anyone who is seen across any of the cameras will be picked up. But, they will show up as a recent person and be gone within 30 days. So, unless they were identified by the police as someone that was requiring further consideration or anything like that, it would go away.”
Waveland resident Zach Fayard also spoke to the board about the proposed camera system.
“I feel like that’s probably a stretch to call it AI,” he said. “The true definition of AI is something that simulates human intelligence, which I don’t believe this does. This is more for data collection. It has no way of making any decisions or to interact any other way than what we tell it to. I feel like this would definitely be a good system to have. I’ve seen systems like this in the past and I’ve helped install some of them in hospitals, offices, and things like that, not to the degree of facial recognition, but data collection and data storage. The big thing for me is that lately, we’ve seen a lot of crime, even close to my neighborhood. I have an eight-year-old, so it causes me to have concern. The idea behind privacy even more. All the data is stored, we (the city) are the only ones that have access to it. Unlike your social media accounts, your smartphones, and everything else that we use in a day. The idea that this AI is supposed to hinder us or not make us safe is idiotic, in my mind.”
Fayard said that based on what he gathered from the information presented is that Verkada’s system is more “virtual intelligence,” meaning “you have to tell it what to do.”
With regards to the data breach, Fayard said that most of the platforms people use such as Facebook and Google have experienced data breaches.
Fayard also suggested to the board members that they study up on the systems.
“The idea that this system is going to invade our privacy in some kind way, no,” he said. “It is designed to protect public property that our tax dollars go to fund. It’s not as much of a boogeyman threat as it has been made out to be tonight.”
Burke asked Waveland Police Chief Mike Prendergast to speak on the camera system.
Prendergast said if law enforcement didn’t have the cameras, they could also depend on the public for information.
“We’re always reaching out to them to help us,” he said. That’s probably where we got 95 percent of things that we do solve.”
Prendergast added that the proposed camera system would “definitely” be an asset to the police department.
Smith said that as far as he was concerned, the chief and his investigators, would “probably be the only ones that have access to it.”
The motion to approve Verkada’s proposal died for a lack of motion.
Learn more about at Verkada at www.verkada.com.
The next board meeting is scheduled for June 16 at 6:30 p.m.