Boston Marathon Bombing Investigators Using Crowdsourced Photographs


In the aftermath of the tragic Boston Marathon bombing on Monday, investigators are turning to crowdsourced photographs and videos in order to hunt down the perpetrator(s). Authorities are calling for anyone at the marathon that day to send in photographs or videos captured in the area.

Digital cameras are ubiquitous these days, and there were countless cameras with lenses pointed at the locations that were bombed. These include surveillance cameras fixed overhead, professional cameras in the hands of photojournalists, and smartphones in the hands of ordinary spectators.

There were likely thousands of cameras snapping away in the area where the blasts occurred

There were likely thousands of cameras snapping away in the area where the blasts occurred

Just minutes after the attack, photos and videos captured at the scene were already beginning to flood social networks. This collective “view” is what may uncover critical clues. A single photo captured using Instagram or video captured using Vine could be instrumental to solving the case.

Brian Resnick of The Atlantic writes that it’s almost certain that “perpetrators of the Boston Marathon blast were caught on camera.”

He notes that thousands of spectators at the event were pointing cameras in different directions and at different times, and that the city of Boston uses at least 147 wireless CCTV cameras placed throughout the city. There are also at least 402 cameras throughout the public transportation system, and countless cameras used by private businesses.

Aaron Tang captured this photo from a high vantage point moments after the attack

Aaron Tang captured this photo from a high vantage point moments after the attack

Investigators plan to use the crowdsourced images to construct what Wired calls “a wider mosaic of imagery,” which reconstructs what was going on in various locations from different angles and vantage points.

The plan sounds like a perfect application of CrowdOptic, which we wrote about after the East Coast hurricanes last year. It’s a visual data mining program that takes mountains of photos and makes it easy to explore them based on time, location, and direction.

A screenshot of CrowdOptic's photo data mining software

A screenshot of CrowdOptic’s photo data mining software

Hopefully with the help of the public and some clever photo analysis, the perpetrator(s) of the bombing will be identified, just as the terrorists of the 2005 London bombings were.

Image credits: Lead photo illustration based on Marathon_0568 by katielann12, Hereford & Boylston, 1:41, April 15, 2013 by Brian Sawyer, Boston Marathon Bombing by hahatango

  • 4232542

    then maybe it will not take as long as it took to catch bin laden…..

  • Jay

    Now, the police and public has understood the importance of the street photography :-)

  • nate parker

    the guy’s gonna wish he stayed with his bomb once the world catches up with him-

  • TheNetworkGeek

    No, they still don’t. As soon as this is over, they’ll go right back to spreading disinformation about how street photographers are all doing the terrorist’s work for them or some such BS

  • Mark N

    I’ve always thought that with all the paranoia by authorities around photography occurring in public areas – airports, train stations, malls – or outside of private or government facilities, the value of having photographers inadvertently CATCHING someone working at harming people or property has to far outweigh the possibility that someone is there photographing with the intent to cause harm.