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The Spy Camera CCTV Debate

Adrian Mudd   June 9, 2008

As ‘talking’ spy cameras have hit the streets of the UK, is this a good step for security or a bad step for privacy?

In Britain, there are more spy cameras in operation than any other country in Europe. The closed-circuit television cameras are watched in control rooms or video recorded. The product is bigger in the UK than anywhere else and CCTV has been in operation since 1998. Many believe they can lower crime; CCTV is used to spot football hooligans and control anti-social behaviour in city centres.

In your vehicles

Vehicle Tracking Devices

The electronic camera, or as some civil liberty groups call it – the surveillance equipment – is used increasingly for car number plate recognition. This is to find out if the car has been involved in a crime and the system has been in operation since 1997 in the City to combat terrorism, although other police forces have bought similar camera systems.

Private firms utilize new spying technology

But as well as the police, private firms can use the spycam to monitor number plates, and there are plans to increase the number of systems in order to introduce schemes for charging vehicles to reduce congestion.

Public concerns

Although some citizens aren’t concerned about the extensive use of the spy camera and believe only criminals should worry about the extensive surveillance, others feel the proliferation of spy gadgets in everyday life is slightly more sinister. Although the spy cam used as a security measure can make people feel safer and do work in reducing crime in that area, some worry that crime is merely displaced to areas not protected by these cameras. The government, however, is clearly behind CCTV and in 2001 committed £79 million of the country’s spending to CCTV systems.

CCTV cameras evolve

And now in 2007, this tech has evolved again – into ‘Talking CCTV’. Ipswich is one of the first towns that are piloting the scheme. The plan is to reduce anti-social problems in town centres so that, for example, if someone drops litter they could be told to pick it up or if you are cycling in a pedestrian area, you could be told to get off your bike. The idea of talking cameras and using these systems to catch people in illegal acts is already used on London’s underground system – drinkers are told that it’s illegal to drink on the platform for example.

Money well spent?

‘Talking CCTV’ works as it catches the illegal act as it happens, and a loudspeaker that is attached to the camera will then tell people off or issue instructions. Security staff will be monitoring and issuing the orders from a control room. There are many petty offences such as spending a penny in public that could be reduced thanks to the spy camera and the Talking CCTV system. Although some people find the idea of this system as reassuring, others have dubbed it as the government’s “Respect Tsar”.