CCTV cameras get upgrade at police request
London Telegraph | March 26, 2007
Police and the Home Office are planning a significant upgrade of the CCTV network in a move that will deepen concern about a lurch towards a "surveillance society''.
New laws would require camera operators to ensure that their equipment produces images good enough for police investigations.
This follows an 18-month review carried out by the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) amid concern about the quality of evidence supplied by millions of cameras. The findings are due to be published within weeks.
Britain has by far the largest number of cameras in the world with an estimated five million in public and private hands - about one for every 12 people.
It was disclosed last week that a London council was placing cameras in baked bean cans to spy on householders leaving their rubbish out on the wrong day.
Last November, the Government's privacy watchdog suggested that Britain was more snooped upon than almost any nation on earth.
An academic study concluded that within 10 years, surveillance will be all-pervasive, spurred on by Government claims that it is needed to fight terrorism.
This proliferation has so alarmed MPs that the Commons home affairs select committee will today announce the first major parliamentary inquiry into "Big Brother'' Britain.
The committee will also take evidence about the growth in state information systems - including the DNA database, which now contains almost four million samples. There were 700,000 on the database when Labour took office in 1997.
MPs are also planning to take another look at ID Cards following changes to the way information is to be stored.
The CCTV review was ordered after the July 7 bombings in London in 2005 which demonstrated the importance of the cameras by picking up the terrorists on the way from Luton to London.
But police found many of the images they acquired, especially those from private and commercial sources, were not good enough.
Police chiefs believe the system has developed in a ''piecemeal'' way and the time has come to impose rules on the type of cameras used.
The growth of digital cameras has particularly alarmed officers. Computerised images using hundreds of different software systems are more difficult to access than analogue videos.
The review involved a huge consultation exercise with manufacturers, retailers, transport representatives, local authorities and police anti-terrorism units.
A draft report proposes regulations to require CCTV equipment to conform to police specifications, but this has to be agreed by Home Office ministers. Police want operators to take advantage of new technologies such as smart cameras that can automatically identify people and analyse their behaviour.
Graeme Gerrard, the deputy chief constable of Cheshire and the Acpo spokesman on CCTV, said: ''We have a very good infrastructure but we are not making the best use of it. This review is about where we should be in 10 or 15 years from now.'
''We want a generic technology that allows us to download images easily and quickly. All those who don't conform would have to change.''
The move will alarm civil liberties groups who have questioned the proliferation of cameras and are sceptical at claims that they help cut crime.
Simon Davies, the director of Privacy International, said: "Surveillance in Britain has now reached a level equivalent to Russia and Malaysia. If something is not done soon to reverse this trend privacy will be extinct within a decade."
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