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
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'