The Prides and Perils of Behavioural Recognition Systems: Which Outweighs the Other?

By Afe Iyorah

Welcome. My name is Afe Iyorah. I am going to take you on a journey as we discuss a relevant topic that has been making headlines around the world. I am talking about behavioural recognition systems and the place they will have in the 21st century. It is without a doubt that this ICT is going to cause ripples in the way we do research and collect data. But first, if you do not already know what a behavioural recognition system is (or BRS for short), let me enlighten you. Just close your eyes and imagine the following scenario as I paint it in your head. You are with your family and you are walking through a crowded airport, about to board the flight for that summer destination you’ve been looking forward to all year long (Speech and sound effects begin)

“Hello there, tickets for four to

Cuba,” you say.

“Coming right up,” the friendly

airport receptionist replies.

Meanwhile, you begin to imagine the feeling of the sand between your toes, the sound of the waves lapping against the shore; you’re imagining the taste of that cold colada you’ll soon be drinking by the beach. Ahh . . . it’s simply paradise after all the hard work you’ve been putting in. The thought is enough to keep you through the hours you wait as they prepare your flight. However, all of a sudden, a commotion breaks out. A law enforcement agent comes and whispers something into the ear of your receptionist.

“Sorry, ma-am, something just came up . . .”

You’re distraught, as you find out your flight is going to be delayed hours longer. Police are now apprehending a man armed with a deadly weapon. He made it through customs and baggage check somehow, and he was going to be boarding the same flight as you! However distraught you may be, you give a sigh of relief because you realize that what has happened is completely for the best. You thank God events unravelled as they did, and you thank behavioural recognition systems as well. You know why? Because this highly trained ICT may have just saved your life, and the lives of dozens of others as well. BRS Labs give their definition of the ingenious design they have breathed life into. “It is an advanced, artificial intelligence solution that teaches itself to recognize and alert on abnormal behaviour patterns within massive volumes of data. This behavioural recognition technology provides real-time insight and data intelligence without requiring predefined rules, custom programming or data analytic expertise.” To put that in layman’s terms for any of you that might be as confused, BRS is a revolutionary technology trained to spot criminals before they can even commit the crime! Believe me, I know it sounds unreal at first, but it’s true. Installed in surveillance cameras at terrorism prone sites like train station, airports and amusement parks, this technology is able to scan up to 150 people at a given time. What is it looking for, you may ask? The answer is body language. Specifically, suspicious body language. If a person is walking through an airport looking paranoid or nervous for any reason, the camera will be able to recognize this behaviour instantaneously and tip off nearby law enforcement, who can take the matter into their hands and apprehend the individual. Now if you’re as intuitive as I am, you may see the potential kinks in a system like this. The technology is designed to look for criminals and terrorists, but not everybody who looks paranoid or suspicious is a potential criminal or terrorist. Take, for example, anybody who suffers from a mental illness and has severe anxiety as a result; or perhaps a child wandering through the same airport because he or she cannot find their parents. These people might give off an air of suspiciousness, but that doesn't mean they’re a threat. One solution that the artificially intelligent technology provides is the capability to learn over-time. It can filter the data it receives to decipher what looks criminally suspicious from what looks like generalized anxiety. But even if it does happen to confuse the two and tip off a nearby law enforcer in the cases of the examples I discussed earlier, does it really hurt to have a trained official go and inquire into the situation and figure out a way to help? Not really is my guess.

Surveillance technology has transformed over the years. Just a decade ago, what was considered to be the norm was CCTV, which stands for closed-circuit television. These are just regular video cameras that transmit footage to a monitor. You’ve definitely seen one before, as to this day they are just about everywhere you look, looking at you too; from empty street corners to dusty alleyways, from street cars to subway stations. It is how we document things in this digital age. They undoubtedly have a big foothold in deterring crime, too. I can’t even begin to imagine the number of criminals who've probably reconsidered their actions after seeing the wide lens of a CCTV camera looking at them from the corner. Just a decade ago, we probably wouldn't be able to imagine the capabilities surveillance would have today. The implications of BRS are huge. I recently interviewed a friend of mine. One of the requirements of his job is to study the changing face of technology and how it affects society. I asked him what he thought about BRS:

“Well, it’s definitely an interesting thought,” he said. “One thing I can think of is the fact that these systems aren't biased. They won’t antagonize or stereotype you because of the colour of your skin or the clothing you’re wearing. If they operate on body language and facial expression alone, then that’s good because it takes the power out of the hands of a judgement, self-conscious human being. I personally think it’ll help clean up some of the racism and bias that takes place around the world every day because of the misconceptions people have …”

Ever since the horrifying event of 9/11, the world has taken great measures to ensure nothing like it happens ever again. The Transportation Security Administration of America employs people to pay attention to the body language of passer-by at airports for behavior that seems odd. Whole fields of studies have been dedicated to equipping people with the knowledge for identifying potential criminals. BRS blows all necessities for this out of the water. We no longer need people to learn these things as the technology does it all for us, in a faster and more efficient manner too. Also, as scholar Steve Elwart highlights in his article on the topic, “The most time consuming part of surveillance analysis is looking at the accumulated video intelligence and determining its value. [It] captures the video feed, analyzes it, and presents a summary of the useful information and events found in the feed.”

It’s amazing to think about the benefits BRS technology can bring. Imagine a world much more safe and free of crime, where people are able to walk out of their worry-free. Imagine being able to go the airport and board that plane for your summer destination like my earlier example, without a doubt that you’ll get there safe. It’s inevitable. People crave that little extra feeling of security and comfort. It is the reason why we form groups and cliques, the reason why we feel so bad when left out of them, and the reason why have thrived for so long as a race. Survival is the number one most basic instinct programmed into the brain from birth. So it’s settled, isn’t it?

“It is!”

Do you understand the tremendous

amount of good this ICT can bring you? Make you thrive and never know fear because you live in a society filled with peace, love and unity?

“I do!”

Do you take this ICT to be your

lawfully wedded spouse, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part?”

“Yes! Yes! I do!”

Then shall it be done. But first . .

. (just a little precaution I have to take in case there’s any losers here) should anyone here present know of any reason that this couple should not be joined in holy matrimony, speak now or forever hold your peace.”


Alright then, you may now kiss the–

“WAIT! I object!!!”


What objection can you possibly

have? This technology promotes safety for all! Not to mention the fact that it prevents discrimination. You don’t think all those people that get their luggage “randomly” checked know what’s really going on?

“I mean sure, this technology might

promote a little more safety; but at what cost? Are we really going to sit back and allow the government a clearer view into our lives? I for one stand for freedom, liberty and privacy! BRS is nothing but bad news!”

This is the general consensus that

those against the technology hold; we are encroaching on humanity’s last fragments of freedom and privacy with “pre-crime” arrests. The American Civil Liberties Union has weighed in with their opinion. They are a non-profit organization who says that the technology is bound to stir up legal trouble, and that “the government’s collection of this sensitive information is in itself an invasion of privacy.” The Associated Press – NORC Center for Public Affairs Research conducted a survey in August 2013 that shows that significantly less people think the government does a good job at ensuring freedoms compared to a few years ago. Andrea Cavallaro, a scholar on the topic, believes that the improvement in surveillance technologies “increase the risk of misuse and abuse of surveillance data.”

I took it upon myself to discover the verdict. We know the supposed benefits this ICT can bring mankind, but do these benefits outweigh the potential harms? I wanted to find out what the average person thinks, so I conducted a questionnaire. I surveyed a total of five people. Their scores are next to each question. Based on my findings, it seems to that while most people do value their privacy and freedom greatly, they are very much in favor of the technology as long as it does its job of reducing crime and terrorism rates. Only time will tell if this is the case, as BRS Labs has only recently begun placing their patent in places like military labs, amusement parks and airports. However, it isn’t a wonder why people are leaning this way, especially after the recent terrorist attacks in France. Maybe this system is just what we need; the type of preventive measure that needs to be taken in response to tragedies like this.

Works Cited

American Civil Liberties Union. (n.d.). Privacy and Surveillance. Retrieved from

Cavallaro, A. (2007). Privacy in Video Surveillance. In the Spotlight, 166-168. Retrieved from

Elwart, S. (2012, November 20). Now Big Brother is Really Watching You. Retried from

Mack, T. C. (2014, Jan-Feb). Privacy and the Surveillance Explosion. Retrieved from

Waugh, R. (2012, June 5). New surveillance cameras will use computer eyes to find 'pre crimes' by detecting suspicious behaviour and calling for guards. [Comments] Retried from

Whitaker, R. (1999). The End of Privacy: How Total Surveillance is Becoming a Reality. New York, NY: New Press

21stcenturylocksmith. (2015, March 28). Behavioral detection software: how police are listening to you part 3. Retrieved from