Howard backs more security cameras
SMH News | July 25, 2005
By David Humphries
Closed-circuit television surveillance is expected to be boosted as part of tighter security arrangements to combat terrorism.
The Prime Minister, John Howard, was so impressed by the CCTV capacity used to identify four men believed responsible for 56 deaths on London transport that he wants Australian systems enhanced.
"The biggest thing that I have learnt by a country mile out of my visit, particularly to Britain, is the extraordinary value of surveillance cameras," he said in London yesterday.
Unlike the national identity card proposal, CCTV is in a script from which the Government is reading in unison. It was also backed yesterday by the Justice Minister, Chris Ellison, and the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, who said CCTV "being in place in so many different locations" had "clearly proved to be very effective".
But a terrorism expert at the Australian National University, Clive Williams, said closed-circuit surveillance would do little to stop terrorism.
CCTV had been used as a deterrent and for investigations after a terrorist attack. "In the London Underground, there are thousands of CCTV cameras and only a small portion are monitored live," Mr Williams said. While recognition might serve as a limited deterrent, it was unlikely to dissuade a suicide bomber.
Mr Howard was more enthusiastic about CCTV than ID cards. "I have been mightily impressed with the great capacity of the British police within 24 hours to identify people," he said. "And these cameras, which of course are far more extensively used in Britain and other parts of the world other than in Australia, are certainly a real plus in catching people."
Mr Howard said CCTV was "one of a number of issues" he would discuss with premiers. He told Channel 10's Meet the Press that no government "is going to turn Australia into a police state" to stave off terrorism. However, changes needed examination in the "wake of things that evolve".
Sydney already has many CCTV cameras, including 48 in the CBD, and other networks in Fairfield, Willoughby, Sutherland and Blacktown, as well as at train stations, wharves and the airport.
Britain has a near saturation security system involving CCTV, covering cities, public transport and motorways, while Australia's is piecemeal. Pervasiveness and co-ordination distinguish the British model from the Australian.
Mr Williams said he doubted the Federal Government would try to replicate Britain but would want a system more comprehensive and better linked.
An expansion of surveillance cameras in Australia could be blessed by good timing because CCTV technology is on the cusp of a new generation, capable of alerting monitors to unusual or suspicious behaviour. Rather than watching constant movement of people in the hope that a trained eye will spot crime, the next closed-circuit system may be able to sound its own alarms.
Technology is being developed to detect suspicious stationary objects, but this is challenging because the system must be able to distinguish between, for instance, an airport trolley and an abandoned suitcase.
It is unclear whether expanded CCTV would mean changes in Australian privacy laws requiring operators to make it clear that areas are under surveillance.