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Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

CCTV Call Awakens Freedom Fears

Two years ago I wrote about CCTV. We are the most watched nation on earth, and my concern was that the police/government might try to automate the monitoring of CCTV images with some kind of computer system. I don’t have too much of a problem with isolated cameras, monitored by human beings: you can argue (rightly or wrongly) that they have a preventative effect on crime and at worst provide evidence after the fact.

Link all the cameras together and apply some form of intelligence though, and a single person or agency can begin to monitor people’s lives in great detail. That for me is an invasion of privacy, the downsides of which overwhelm any security arguments.

At a conference last week the director of information for the Association of Chief Police Officers reported that officers are being overwhelmed by the volume of CCTV data available. One of his major concerns was that officers cannot track a car in real time using Automatic Number Plate Recognition.

This for me sounds very much like the top of a long and greasy slope. At the bottom of that slope is automatic facial recognition and real-time tracking of people.

Sure I can see the security benefits. But do they outweigh the risks?

However right-minded they might appear, you can’t just hand powers over to a government and trust they will always be used responsibly. Look at the current government’s record: rendition; torture; infiltration of protest groups; heavy-handed control of demonstrations; RIPA.

We live in a very safe, democratic society, but at the fringes our rights to privacy and freedom of expression are definitely being eroded. We all ought to be aware of further changes. You never know how future governments might use the powers we give them today.

Tom Cheesewright