Blair: Keeping Up with the Bushes

Big Brother sugars the surveillance pill
Victor Keegan
Thursday January 4, 2007
The Guardian

Something funny has been happening to the CCTV cameras in our neighbourhood. They have started growing ears. Not real ones – at least not yet – but audio functions enabling them to “hear” what is happening around them as well as see. At the moment the experiment is confined to six cameras operating in the Soho area of Westminster, London, which has a high concentration of clubs and bars. An advanced wireless network which the council is building relays the information to a monitoring centre. If it is successful, it will be expanded to other selected areas. Police in the UK are also thinking about installing new CCTV cameras sensitive enough to record conversations up to 100 yards away to thwart hooliganism but, wisely, are keen to have a national debate about it first.

Westminster council claims that the devices don’t eavesdrop since they monitor ambient noise, not actual voices. For instance, if the decibels emanating from clubs rise above acceptable levels late at night then the authorities are automatically informed so, instead of sending out noise monitoring officers they can ring the club’s owners to warn them or, if it is serious enough, take the appropriate action.

The council argues that this experiment arose from what it believes is its unique approach to the roll-out of wireless over eight square miles of the city. Unusual for a Conservative council, it is being driven by public services. The high bandwidth needed to support a CCTV wireless network offers spare capacity for delivering other services where only the imagination is the limit. Possible applications include monitoring old people’s safety in their own homes and automatic detection of faulty street lights.

Read it here.

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