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CCTV (1997) by Schnews & Ian Fergeson

by SchNews, May 1997

"Now is the time to act. The right of privacy of individuals needs to be guaranteed before all power passes to those who own the tools of surveilance." - Editorial, New Scientist, April

An American company has developed spy cameras with the technology to strip people of their clothes, leading privacy campaigners to dub the invention PubeMaster 2000.

In April, the US Federal Aviation Authority provided $26m to speed up research in the new surveillance technologies, principally for advance body search for airport surveillance. The system doesn't use X-ray; it recreates the human form from digitised analysis of thermal and density data.

One image has been released by the US government as part of a package designed to show it's cracking down on terrorist threats. It shows a naked man with clearly visible secreted objects such as "75gm of simulated cocaine taped to the abdomen" and "25mm thick plexiglass knife." BodySearch TM has been in the development stage for 4 years and is now being used in trials.

Simon Davies of Privacy International, argues that "as sure as night follows day" this technology will be adapted for much wider use. "BodySearch is the leading edge", he told SchNEWS, prediciting, "it will be common technology, general purpose in the urban environment within ten years."

The cameras are already intruding into our private lives. Diana Sampson, who monitors CCTV for the London Borough of Sutton says, "I know for a fact that one leisure centre has cameras in its women's changing room, monitored by men and they can do anything with those tapes." CCTV is a honey pot for perverts. One camera operator in Mid Glamorgan has been convicted on more than 200 counts of using cameras to spy on women, and making obscene phone calls from the control room.

"Through urban design you strip away any hope that people may be able to escape the gaze of the cameras, says Davies, author of Big Brother: Britains Web of Surveillance.And through powerful technology you strip away their clothes. So in the end there's nothing left but threadbare civil liberties...and no clothes."

Even more alarming are the technologies already in place in Britain. These include computerised face recognition systems that can automatically compare faces captured on CCTV, infra-red radar systems able to detect activity behind walls and in darkness, and miniature devices designed for covert surveillance. 125,000 of these devices, as small as a matchbox, are sold each year from UK and can be picked up from as little as 60. The biggest market is keeping tabs on employees. The range of objects in which tiny cameras can be hidden means that they raise "absolutely no suspicion whatsoever."

The March edition of the industry magazine 'CCTV Today' reveals what we can expect next. Not only will we be seen, but heard. Audio in CCTV is an area of "exciting potential" says Julian Sharples, Managing Director of GEB Europe.

In their Codes of Practice, Sussex Police state that "no sound facility should be provided with any public CCTV system", but these are guidelines only. The camera industry itself is lawless.

As Simon Davies points out, "Anyone can set up a CCTV system, you don't need a licence. There is no government oversight agency. The technology is outside data protection law - it's free from any constraint."

The argument that "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear..." is a direct translation from the slogan of the Stasi, the old East German secret police! In many instances, CCTV system operators routinely exercise their prejudices to discriminate against race, age, class or sexual preference. One camera operator in Burnley told a Granada documentary, "People mainly with shirts and ties are OK. Most people you can tell just by looking at them. Another said: I tell by the hair."

The vast majority of cameras at present are visible and it is fairly easy to know when we are being spied on, but as technology develops cameras are more likely to be used for covert surveilance purposes. "All the systems are now being marketed for their interconnectability. Once you create a system that has a mass of potential links to other systems, not only does this increase the power of the system, but also its uses. This is very powerful military technology, becoming infinitely more powerful as each year passes. Systems are going to be linked to computers. These are the foundation stones of a surveillance society which will lock us in for all time."

Simon Davies will be speaking at the SchNEWS Direct Action Conference III in the old Evening Argus building in North Rd, Brighton, Sat 10th at the at 2pm. The event runs Sat & Sun, from 12.00 to 5.30. Free. For more details of the conference ring 01273 685913.


In fact the art of visual surveillance has dramatically changed over recent years. Of course police and intelligence officers still photograph demonstrations and individuals of interest but increasingly such images can be stored, searched., and data bases crossed-referenced. The revolution in urban surveillance will reach the next generation of control once reliable face recognition comes in. It will initially be introduced at stationary locations, like turnstiles, customs points, security gateways, etc., to enable a standard full face recognition to take place. However, in the early part of the 21st. century, facial recognition on CCTV will be a reality and those countries with CCTV infrastructures will view such technology as a natural add-on.

It is important to set clear guidelines and codes of practice for such technological innovations, well in advance of the digital revolution making new and unforeseen opportunities to collate, analyse, recognise and store such visual images. Such regulation will need to be founded on sound data protection principles and take cognisance of article 15 of the 1995 European Directive on the protection of Individuals and Processing of Personal Data. Essentially this says that: "Member States shall grant the right of every person not to be subject to a decision which produces legal effects concerning him or significantly affects him and which is based solely on the automatic processing of data." The attitude to CCTV camera networks varies greatly in the European Union, from the position in Denmark where such cameras are banned by law to the position in the UK, where many hundreds of CCTV networks exist. Nevertheless, a common position on the status of such systems where they exist in relation to data protection principles should apply in general. A specific consideration is the legal status of admissibility as evidence, of digital material such as those taken by the more advanced CCTV systems. Much of this will fall within data protection legislation if the material gathered can be searched, e.g., by car number plate or by time. Given that material from such systems can be seamlessly edited, the European Data Protection Directive legislation needs to be implemented through primary legislation which clarifies the law as it applies to CCTV, to avoid confusion amongst both CCTV data controllers as well as citizens as data subjects.

A proper code of practice should cover the use of all CCTV surveillance schemes operating in public spaces and especially in residential area. The Code of Practice should encompass:- a) a purpose statement covering the key objectives of the scheme; b) a consideration of the extent to which the scheme falls within the scope of Data Protection legislation; c) the responsibilities of the owner of the scheme and those of local partners; d) the way the scheme is to be effectively managed and installed; e) the principles of accountability; f) the availability of public information on the scheme and the principles of its operation in residential areas; g) the formal approaches to be used to assess, evaluate and audit the performance of both the scheme and the accompanying Code of Practice; h) mechanisms for dealing with complaints and any breaches of the Code including those of security; i) detailing the extent of any police contacts or use of the scheme; and j) the procedures for democratically dealing with proposals of technological change.

London Borough of Newham - Face Recognition

After months of pre-publicity, at least two television documentaries and even the front page of the Daily Mail, the London Borough of Newham's Face Recognition system has gone live on October 14th 1998. The system is in addition to Newham's 140 CCTV street cameras and 11 mobile radio linked units that are already in operation. According to their press release, Newham Council are choosing to disregard the Data Protection Act with this system, although many of Newham's other systems, less intrusive to the public, are registered. Under the Data Protection Act, personal information will not be held on the Face Recognition system only photographs and Police reference numbers. However, this is being somewhat "economical with the truth", as the unfortunately named Mandrake system, developed in the UK by Software and Systems International, is based on neural network face recognition technology from Visionics in the USA. Inevitably the pattern matching process is not 100% accurate, so there is a reasonable chance of mis-identification of innocent people as "suspects". The database of suspects is to be supplied by the Metropolitan Police, but there are no details about the rules and procedures for updating this database. Are new suspects simply added continually ? When, if ever, does a suspect come off the Mandrake suspect list ? If there are just photos and reference numbers, how are the council camera operators meant to distinguish between, say, petty criminals and terrorists ? Technically, the Mandrake system could be used to feed "suspect" photos and movement patterns back to the police or other agencies or the council could sell the results to commercial companies. Where are the rules and procedures that govern this ? Remember, this system is not intended to rapidly identify known criminals after they have been arrested, but to target people simply walking down the public street. And as sure as night follows day this technology will soon be used on the streets of Bristol...

(from Ian Ferguson)