Friday, September 29, 2006

CCTV nation

I bought the New Statesman on the way home from work this evening. It is rather a good issue, with not too much of it written by comedians.

In particular, I recommend the lead article by Brendan O'Neill. It looks at the spread of closed-circuit television and what that tells us about our society.

He writes:
Throughout the country are an estimated five million CCTV cameras; that's one for every 12 citizens. We have more than 20 per cent of the world's CCTV cameras, which, considering that Britain occupies a tiny 0.2 per cent of the world's inhab itable land mass, is quite an achievement. The average Londoner going about his or her business may be monitored by 300 CCTV cameras a day. Roughly 1,800 cameras watch over London's railway stations and another 6,000 permanently peer at commuters on the Underground and London buses. In other major city centres, including Manchester and Edinburgh, residents can expect to be sighted on between roughly 50 and 100 cameras a day.

Besides the official cameras - such as those operated by Westminster City Council from the Trocadero basement - ever-growing numbers of private companies, banks, building societies, schools, community halls, leisure centres and private residences are using CCTV.

And the cameras are getting cleverer all the time. As well as filming and recording our every move (Westminster, for example, stores all footage for 31 days), some cameras now come with automatic number-plate recognition, facial recognition and even suspicious behaviour recognition. In 2003, "smart" software called Intelligence Pedestrian Surveillance was introduced. This analyses clusters and movements of pixels in CCTV footage in search of "behavioural oddities".

British scientists, backed by the Ministry of Defence and a £500,000 government grant, are developing cameras with "gait recognition". These will recognise whether people are walking suspiciously or strangely, and alert a human operator. Think of it as the Ministry of Unfunny Walks
Under the tyrannical gaze of today's CCTV, none of us is really free. Instead, we live in a permanent state of parole, where we must walk, talk and act in a certain way, or risk having our collars felt by a cop or council official alerted by the spies behind the cameras. It is time we took some action against these peeping Toms of officialdom, and told them to switch off their spycams.


Iain Dale said...

I thought there was another very perceptive article in it :)

Anonymous said...

I have recently been listening to Liberal Democrat cllrs vigorously campaigning for more CCTV cameras.