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“Talking” CCTV cameras in Britain: “Big brother” getting silly?

CCTV in Britain has become so pervasive that Britain has 20% of the world’s CCTV cameras despite only having 1% of the world’s population, and anyone who walks through any major town or city centre is likely to get caught on hundreds of them.

Now, the use of “talking” CCTV cameras in town centres has started to be pushed, where the CCTV operators can talk to the people they’re viewing, the ostensible purpose being to tell them off for “anti-social behaviour” and/or to deter crime.

For example, recent reports have them being employed in Middlesborough, Gloucester and Blackpool, and recently it has been announced that talking CCTV should be extended to 20 English towns. According to this report from the Telegraph, the 20 towns that will receive grants for talking CCTV are: Southwark; Barking and Dagenham; Reading; Harlow; Norwich; Ipswich; Plymouth; Gloucester; Derby; Northampton; Mansfield; Nottingham; Coventry; Sandwell; Wirral; Blackpool; Salford; Middlesbrough; South Tyneside; and Darlington and competitions will be held in schools for school children to become the “voice of CCTV” in these areas.

This Orwellian idea seems fundamentally wrong headed for various reasons:

  • As Spy Blog point out, CCTV cameras can often zoom in on people some distance away, thus to get their attention may require the warnings to be very loud. Even without the issue of zooming, the systems would have to be loud enough to be heard over traffic, the noise of people milling around and even roadworks. Thus at night these systems may disturb people’s sleep and during the day they may disturb office workers.

    If there’s more than one person around it may be unclear who it is the CCTV operator is talking to/shouting at, especially when you consider that it can be difficult to know from where noise broadcast over public address systems is coming.

    Spy blog also point out that people could play tricks by broadcasting their own “faked” CCTV shouting in an area where the talking CCTV is used. All it would take is a portable stereo system and loudspeaker, and perhaps some equipment to record “genuine” CCTV shouting.

  • It seems to me that fundamentally there’s a lack of accountability in this scheme. The CCTV operator, located in a room that may well be miles away from the scene, will be shouting orders at people who cannot respond directly to him and who won’t know who’s shouting at them - note that the schemes reported above will use recorded school children’s voices for some bizarre reason! The CCTV operator also won’t hear any verbal responses, and will only be able to rely on seeing a picture of what’s happening. Once you have power with a lack of accountability, it’s only a matter of time before someone abuses that power.
  • The CCTV camera will not give the complete picture of what’s happening and there’s limited scope for further investigation by the CCTV operator to make sure he’s got the right person or that he correctly saw what they were doing, thus it is likely the CCTV operators will mistakenly accuse people of crime or anti-social behaviour, indeed this has already happened in Middlesborough.

It would be far more effective in terms of crime fighting to get police officers pounding the beat, whose visible presence will deter crime and much of what is called “anti-social” behaviour and who will be in a far better position to decide whether someone should be told off or some other intervention should be taken than someone in a far-off who sits watching CCTV all day.

1 Comment

  1. It’s too sinister to be ignored as eccentric nuttiness. THese people are serious. With each year, new bells and whistles are added to this surveillance technology. How long before hovering cams that follow people about are roaming around following people? not long at all I suspect.

    The motive seems to be, that everyone is a criminal, it’s jsut a matter of catching them doing something. THey won’t rest until every man woman and child has a criminal record, and for what?

    To keep people scared, worried, frightened. This is how the UK government operates. Keep in line, move along, don’t cause trouble. Fear the shouting cameras, or yu will be slapped with an ASBO.

    No other country in the world does anything like this, even China and Russia at their worst, never indulged in such behaviour.

    It’s chilling.

    Comment by Wink Nightingale — 15 April, 2007 @ 7:42 am | Edit This


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