Network: Big Brother really is watching you

It won't be long before our every move will be monitored by security cameras

A RECENT shopping trip to the hi-tech mecca that is London's Tottenham Court Road made me feel like a movie star from the black-and- white era. Not because I became colour blind after exposure to the Blade Runner-inspired neons so beloved of merchants, but because of the amount of closed-circuit TV cameras proudly deployed by the cutting-edge techno retailers.

In the space of a mile I got walk-on parts in at least 15 movies shot by shop-window CCTV. The gimmick works. I have witnessed a number of CCTV junkies pretending to look at the latest flat-panel monitor while in fact combing their hair and grinning to the camera. Some retailers have gone as far as installing a Webcam to cut costs.

Walking through town later that day, I counted no less than 126 locations with CCTV and those are only the ones I was aware of, as there are plenty of hidden cameras. Unfortunately, most of those were less amusing, as they were installed in shops, underground stations or public squares, where the output was not displayed for me to marvel at but secretly monitored by hidden control room operators.

Many UK towns and cities spend as much as pounds 1m of tax-payers' money on these things, but do they help prevent crime? According to research by Dr Clive Norris, of Hull University, the cameras are watching the wrong people in the wrong places. He has found that most of the CCTV cameras monitor young males, with a particular propensity for zooming in on black teenagers, and that arrests made as a result of CCTV monitoring were few - Dr Norris's research involved 592 hours of taping, only 12 arrests were made, and all were white males in their mid-twenties.

Further study from the Scottish Centre for Criminology found that virtually all claims of crime prevention due to the deployment of CCTV are false. Crimes of passion, offences involving drugs and alcohol and actions by professional criminals are not prevented by the cameras. However, after years of cost-cutting, the police have latched on to the technology as an answer to all their budget prayers. Replacing real police constables with cameras is an increasing trend. In the light of the rather low effectiveness of CCTV as a crime prevention tool, and further evidence that, in some cases, the installation of CCTV has actually been followed by an increase in crime, it is logical to suspect that the presence of a real policeman might have a more deterring impact than a small piece of plastic.

There is also the issue of the misuse of the millions of our images caught every day on security videotapes. Since digital videotape is a lot easier to search through, it's not difficult to imagine that these visual databases could soon be linked to databases containing your credit or tax records. Imagine a student applying for a grant but having his application rejected as he was caught on CCTV in a local pub working for "cash-in-hand", or, even worse, spotted by a high-street CCTV buying an expensive PC. Not every education minister would understand that such a purchase is not necessarily evidence of a fraudulent grant claim but might have come about after years of savings.

Or imagine parents being denied Child Benefit when CCTV footage obtained from Disneyland provided damning evidence that they spent hundreds of pounds riding Thunder Mountain and buying Mickey Mouse ears. Such automated blocking responses are likely to happen very soon. Since there are no laws to protect our visual data from misuse, the only way out would be a frequent trip to your local plastic surgeon.

If you have crossed Leicester Square recently, you may have found yourself photographed by Capital Radio's Webcam (http://www. capitalfm.co.uk/ street). And if you were accompanied by, say, a person to whom you were not married, the visual evidence could be used in future divorce proceedings. Capital Radio does not appear on the list of licensees of CCTV, and therefore the data captured by its Webcam is not subject to the Data Protection Act. A licensed CCTV system must be signposted, with its purpose and the owner of the camera stated, to ensure that you will not end up in a broadcast on Cops TV Live from Leicester Square.

Of course, there are great applications for Webcams; perhaps in the kitchen of your favourite Indian, to monitor the lethal levels of monosodium glutamate, in Chris Evans's bedroom or in the modem rooms of your Internet provider (to verify the disputed ratio of number of modems per 1,000 users).

But before we spend even more money on technology that is, at best, useless as crime prevention and, at worst, misused as a police cost-cutting measure, we should think long and hard about the possible Big Brother implications of letting technology run ahead of the law. In the meantime, send me your thoughts on visual data protection.

eva@never.com

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones