Intelligent camera system to weed out ‘villains’ in Britain


Written on Tuesday, April 17, 2007 by Gemini

CCTV cameras that detect potential offenders and then “tail” them are being tested in British shopping centres.

The £7,000 “Bug” is fitted with a ring of eight cameras that gives a panoramic view of a street. The footage is scanned by sophisticated software which can identify 50 behaviour traits that indicate whether somebody is acting or loitering in a suspicious manner.

When a suspect is spotted, a ninth camera automatically locks onto them and follows their movements. It means town centres can be monitored without the need for human operators to watch screens. The device has been tested in Luton for the last 18 months and Chester and Exeter city councils are due to install the “intelligent” camera system.

Jason Butler, head of CCTV at Luton council, said: “The camera picks up on unusual movement, zooms in on someone and gathers evidence from a face and clothing, acting as a 24-hour operator without someone having to be there. We have kids with Asbos telling us they hate the thing because it follows them wherever they go.”

But civil liberty campaigners claim the cameras are yet another extension of state surveillance in what is already the world’s most spied upon country. There are 4.2 million CCTV cameras in Britain — a fifth of the world’s total. Earlier this month the Home Office announced plans to extend the use talking CCTV cameras that order passers-by to pick up dropped litter.

Critics say the Bug sounds like a step towards the world depicted in the 2002 science fiction film Minority Report, where Tom Cruise stars as an officer in a police “department of precrime” that arrests offenders on the basis of what they are about to do. Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, said: “We do not know what the psychological impact of this will be on the population.”

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