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Surveillance society reaches Shetland

Scotland On Sunday | November 12, 2006

THERE really is no escape. The all-seeing eye of CCTV is making its way to Shetland.

Britain's most northerly group of islands is spending £200,000 to install 14 closed-circuit TV cameras around the islands' capital, Lerwick.

The move has been driven by growing fears about antisocial behaviour linked to drink in Lerwick, but comes despite the islands having the second-lowest number of crimes of anywhere in Scotland.

Shetland has advertised for a provider to set up the 14 cameras around Lerwick, with the town's harbour being a particular focus for the devices. It is expected that the systems will be installed some time next year.

The decision by Shetland is the most northerly conquest by CCTV so far in the UK, although many parts of Scotland with supposedly idyllic reputations have also used the system, including Dingwall in Ross-shire, Tain in Sutherland, and Stornoway in the Western Isles.

The UK's information commissioner, Richard Thomas, has warned that the country has become a "surveillance society".

There are up to an estimated 4.2 million CCTV cameras in Britain - about one device for every 14 people - and the typical Briton can be scanned by CCTV cameras up to 300 times a day, with 1,800 cameras covering railway stations alone.

Digital CCTV systems can be configured to use face-recognition and look for criminal suspects. An estimated £500m of public money has been spent on installing CCTV in the last decade and the number is expected to increase by at least 50% over the next five years. Sophisticated new software will allow the cameras to detect "behavioural oddities" on the streets and automatically alert operators with many screens to monitor.

They will be designed to recognise groups of people, or even those walking strangely. Some systems - including one currently on trial in Middlesbrough - will allow operators verbally to tick off "offenders" such as litter louts. Critics of CCTV argue that the devices damage privacy and human rights and that they simply displace crime rather than reducing it.

Shetlanders are at their most exuberant for their Up Helly Aa celebrations, which take place on the last Tuesday of January.

After a torchlight procession of up to a thousand 'guizers' through the streets of Lerwick, a full-size replica Viking longship is ceremonially burned. The 'guizers' and onlookers then make their way to halls for a night of revelry, dancing and partying.

In a statement attached to the invitation to tender, Shetland Islands Council said: "The contract comprises the installation of up to 14 closed-circuit television cameras at various locations throughout Lerwick, Shetland."


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