Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Smile - You are on Camera

Security cameras are everywhere in Europe. In London, the police are able to follow the movements of an individual almost anywhere and use powerful computers and many hours of labour to reconstruct a day in the life of…when they are in public places. Given the attempt to reconstruct the final days of the murdered Ipswich prostitutes, you can see why this is being done – despite the implications this has for civil liberty and privacy.

Now, in the Netherlands, the cameras listen. They are not listening to an individuals speech (though its just a matter of time), but to the pattern of speech listening for aggressive tones and sudden shifts in the pattern of sound. When it detects these, the camera moves to capture the new sound location and sends an alert to the control room.

More recent developments, not yet in public use, is to be able to use a range of biometric information to locate an individual in a crowd and then train the cameras to focus on the person and “hand over” the tracking to the next camera so that it will be easier to piece together the public behaviour of a particular person.

Liberty issues abound here. In Alberta, there is a total unwillingness to use cameras even on known trouble spots, except during special occasions and known trouble events. Here, the liberty issues outweigh the security issues, which is interesting. In Britain, at least when I last lived there (1998-2003), there was very little debate – the cameras just grew, multiplied and, well took over.

George Orwell would have been fascinated by all of this. When coupled with continuous news, some of it using CCTV footage, the society he wrote about in 1984 is closer than we think. When we then see Universities requiring politically incorrect students to undergo correctness rehabilitation at their own expense – based on the political correctness reports of fellow students – then we know that Orwell was right. If we had “seeing and listening cameras” on campus, Orwell would smile and simply say “I told you so”.


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