The new app allows anyone from law enforcement to the general public to find out if a work of art is stolen simply by taking a photograph of it. Using image-recognition software, the app can check uploaded photographs against the Stolen Works of Art database. If the photograph matches any of the objects on the database – which holds information on some 52,000 missing works of art and artefacts – then an option pops up to notify the authorities.
INTERPOL Secretary General, Jürgen Stock commented that, “in recent years we’ve witnessed the unprecedented ransack by terrorists of the cultural heritage of countries arising from armed conflict, organized looting and cultural cleansing.” The app, General Stock continues, is a “new tool” which constitutes “a significant step forward in enhancing the ability of police officers, cultural heritage professionals and the general public to protect our common heritage.”
The app offers a range of different features which all help with recovering stolen works of art. Using Object Identification (Object ID) – an internationally recognised documentation standard for identifying and recording cultural goods – both private collectors and public institutions are able to take photographs of their collections and record details about individual objects on the app. In the event of a theft, the records held on the app can be turned over to law enforcement, which could help considerably in their return.
UNESCO have also recognised the importance of this new app. Ernesto Ottone, UNESCO’s Assistant Director General for Culture, called it a “major milestone in the international fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property”.
The pilot phase of the app was successful, with various recoveries made. In the Netherlands, the Dutch Art Crime Unit were suspicious of two paintings which had appeared on an online auction site in Amsterdam. According to art detective, Richard Bronswijk, “we were able to test the app immediately and it worked perfectly”. Bronswijk continued, “it’s just a matter of taking one photo and you have the answer. I really expect auction houses to make use of it.” The Italian police also took advantage of the pilot phase of the app, and recovered two stolen statues.