New video technology could help researchers pin-point where Jihadi hostage videos were shot

The technology is still in its early stages of development

Jon Stone
Friday 20 February 2015 14:21
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An Isis propaganda video purporting to show fighters near the Iraqi city of Tikrit
An Isis propaganda video purporting to show fighters near the Iraqi city of Tikrit

A new video analysis technology could make it easier for the security services to track down hostages taken by terror groups such as Isis or Al Qaeda.

The algorithm, developed by researchers at Ramón Llull University in Barcelona, cross-references videos against a huge database of known footage with the aim of matching their locations.

Because terror groups often film and release videos of hostages, the researchers have suggested that the technology could have some counter-terrorism applications.

“Our system does not make any assumptions regarding the location of the videos, but in these cases we are given very valuable additional information to limit the searches, as we already know that we are dealing with the area of Iraq or Syria, and therefore, we would only use reference videos from there,” explained Xavier Sevillano, one of the study’s authors.

Still in its early stages of development, the technology located 3% of videos included in a recent study to within 10km of their location, and 1% of videos tested to within 1km.

Counter-terrorism researchers and intelligence agencies already employ a series of techniques to ‘geolocate’ videos – trying to discern the location they were shot.

Eliot Higgins, a research fellow at the Centre of Excellence in Terrorism, Resilience, Intelligence and Organised Crime Research (CENTRIC), has experience in geolocating terror videos.

Mr Higgins told The Independent that the technology could be helpful in a limited number of cases but that it would not revolutionise the usually painstaking process.

“To me this seems like interesting technology, and I'd like to see it in action, but I don't think it's going to revolutionise the way geolocation is done,” he said.

“In a small number of cases it might make it easier to find a search location, but it seems like those instances where we've located Jihadis to within a few feet of a specific location there's still going to have to be additional work.”

He noted that the low success rate of the technology at its early development stage could limit its applications.

Because the technology relies on archive footage, it could also be difficult to use it to geolocate videos shot inside buildings or in remote areas where no archive footage exists.

The latest developments in the technology were outlined in a scientific paper authored by Xavier Sevillano, Xavier Valero, and Francesc Alías called “Look, listen and find: A purely audiovisual approach to online videos geotagging”.

The paper was published in the most recent issue is the Information Sciences journal.

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