Unmanned spy drones and facial recognition cameras could soon be the norm in UK

Ministers signalled that advances in technology meant there was nothing to stop such controversial surveillance measures becoming commonplace. The warning came in proposals for a code of practice to better regulate the spread of CCTV amid fears there will be “unchecked proliferation” without it. Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, said last year that Britain is heading towards becoming a surveillance state of unmanned spy drones, GPS tracking of employees and profiling through social networking sites. He said the relentless march of surveillance had seen snooping techniques “intensify and expand” at such a pace that regulators were struggling to keep up. The Coalition Government has pledged to row back the surveillance state and restore civil liberties. Proposals contained in the Protection of Freedoms Bill last month included giving the public the power to take councils to court if they can argue CCTV is being abused or is intrusive. A consultation on plans for a code of conduct for those using CCTV was published yesterday which will be monitored by a new Security Camera Commissioner. The document said CCTV is often only of “limited value” to police investigations because images can be poor or cameras badly positioned. But it added that “modern digital technology is on the cusp of revolutionising the use of CCTV”. It said features such as powerful zoom, 360 degree vision, facial recognition “are coming closer to being an established part of the CCTV landscape”. “New uses for systems, for example in taxis, are a natural part of industry growth”. It added that while emerging technology such as remote unmanned airborne vehicles may not currently be widespread, “there is scope for their unchecked proliferation and attendant ricks if they are not considered within any overarching strategy”. Britain is the one of the most watched countries in the world with more than four million public or privately owned CCTV cameras – one for every 14 people. Police have admitted that, in some cases, only one crime is solved for every 1,000 cameras. Under the proposed code, police forces and councils who want to set up CCTV systems will have to be open and clear about what they will be used for and why. 

West Midlands Police apologized last year over a controversial CCTV scheme which saw more than 200 surveillance cameras installed in two largely Muslim neighborhoods. The code may also say how long data, including images from automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras, should be retained. James Brokenshire, the crime prevention minister, said: “CCTV and ANPR systems play a vital role in the prevention and detection of crime. “However it is important they are used in a way that does not invade law-abiding people’s privacy or undermine the public’s confidence in them. “That’s why we are establishing this code and that’s why we are asking the public what they think should be in it.” Daniel Hamilton, director of campaign group Big Brother Watch, said the move was “a step in the right direction”.

Source Tom Whitehead The Guardian

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