Posts filed under ‘CCTV’
Do you remember your high school years? Was it full of Zac Efron dudes singing and dancing their way through musicals? Or pretty young things spending more time on their appearance than their learning? My time in high school was pretty pedestrian now that I think about it. I always had my nose in textbooks, showed up to all classes and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I had a crush on a few dudes; every weekend I cleaned the pool for my ancient history teacher; and I plotted and schemed how to avoid physical education classes. But that’s about as radical as it gets. Boring, yeah, I know.
But seems if you’re a kid in school these days, it’s not necessarily a pleasant thing to experience. Why? Because we’ve reached the point where every school kid is looked on as a possible threat. Before I launch myself into the topic, yes, there have been some terrible incidents in schools where kids and teachers have been attacked or shot. But not every kid is planning to off his or her fellow students or teachers. Some are there – gasp! – to learn and gain the marks needed to enter university or college.
Take a moment to remember your high school years – then read this letter from James Stephenson as he relates a school stuffed full of CCTV cameras and invasive searches. Stephenson graduated from Virginia’s public schooling system two years ago, so it’s all fresh in his memory. He talks of staff searching student cars and lockers; how heavily-armed and armored police officers roam the halls; and he invites us to consider that CCTV cams don’t make you feel more secure – they make you feel “twitchy and paranoid”. My heart went out to Stephenson when I read this letter. I cannot imagine being a kid in high school surrounded by security and teaching staff who consider I might be a potential threat and therefore have to monitor, surveil, frisk, search and spy on me. And of course you would have read about student laptop webcams used to spy on kids at school and in their own homes.
Now, I’ve just been reading about the circus going on at a school in Chelmsley Wood, UK (rest assured dear American reader: you are not the only country forced to put up with the theatre of security). Kids at Grace Academy in Chelmsley Wood discovered security cameras had been installed without parent permission in……the toilets. Yeegads! Apparently, this school has 26 CCTV cameras. I presume the CCTV cams in the loos are only pointing at the washing basins but I would not be surprised to learn otherwise.
The question in my mind is: what will be the results for a generation of kids who have been constantly monitored from kindergarten onwards? You just have to read Stephenson’s heartfelt letter to know that all kids are not saying “who cares, I’ve got nothing to hide”. The really interesting bit in my mind of Stephenson’s narrative was when he talked about an English teacher who never had any trouble with the kids in her class. She simply treated her class with respect and expected the same from them.
Most violence that kills children is outside the school environment. For example, between 1990 and 2001, two million children were killed in wars where small arms were used. In 2007/2008, 43 children (or 62% of killings in England and Wales) were killed by their parents. And in the United States, in 2005 there were 555 cases of infanticide with 60% of children dying at the hands of their parents.
I am not saying that child-on-child crime isn’t a serious issue in schools. It’s a tragedy that any child is killed or attacked whilst at school. But authorities should be probing the cause of school massacres not installing hundreds of CCTV cams in the false hope of stopping incidents. I suspect that schools and school authorities are in the grip of what Stanley Cohen refers to as a “moral panic”. I’ll do some more thinking on this and perhaps do another post.
New Zealand’s Privacy Commissioner has just released guidelines on the use of closed-circuit television systems (CCTV). Clearly, the Privacy Commish is an astute woman for she says:
“CCTV has an important role to play in detecting and prosecuting crime, and even deterring some types of crime. But this does not need to be at the expense of privacy.”
I’ve read the guidelines and I think they are well-considered and offer small business and organisations practical advice on deciding whether CCTV is actually needed; how to store images; and making sure employees and the general public are aware of CCTV cams and their positioning.
2.2 of the summary is something I’m very pleased to see – “Where appropriate, consult with the community and other key stakeholders on your business plan.” 2.4 is also targetting an aspect of CCTV I’m always concerned with: “Develop a clear policy on how images collected by CCTV will be handled. Make this policy easily accessible (for example, on your website).”
Section 8 of the summary document outlines controlling who can see images and suggests a log of all access to CCTV images should be kept. This is a good step towards addressing another issue I’ve raised before: who the hell can see the images, how they are stored and who has access.
And then 9.2 suggests a very sensible step: after a year of operation, do an audit and evaluate the operation of the system to determine its effectiveness and continuing viability.
Appendix A of the guidelines is a handy checklist for small business and helps to think through clear reasons for operating a CCTV system.
Go here for the summary and the guidelines.
It’s a good week for privacy-related news and stuff on surveillance. I had to chuckle when I read an article from BBC News. London is the proud owner of over one million CCTV cams (yeegads: could they be any more surveillance obsessed!) and this network of mindless, blinking eyes managed to solve a staggering amount of crimes in 2008.
No wait: that would be the answer the people “who have nothing to hide” brigade would give. The true answer is every 1,000 CCTV cams, staring down on London citizens and all their activities, only manages to solve…….one crime. Yep, you read that number correctly: one crime.
So that’s one crime for every 1,000 CCTV. Yet, the investment in these CCTV cams is a massive £500m. Mmmmm…..not sure Government dudes that this is such a great return on your investment. Apparently, £500m is three quarters of the Home Office’s total spending on crime prevention.
An internal Scotland Yard report was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and revealed these stats on CCTV (in)effectiveness. It was also highly critical of many things I’ve blogged about before. The Home Office UK also conducted research and found that this supposed major crime fighting tool was best at catching petty thieves lurking in car parks. And a 5 year statistical study based on crime rates at two apartment complexes in the US (2002-2006) showed no persuasive evidence that the installation of cameras reduced the crime rate.
CCTV is simple remote policing. You may think it makes you safer but given the Scotland Yard report statistics, clearly all it does is make you THINK you are safer. A more effective use of £500m would be more visible policing of streets – if people want to feel safer, no better thing than seeing some beefy police dudes patrolling. I’m afraid I wouldn’t be game enough to walk down any dark alley that boasted CCTV – I’d rather have that alley well lit. So how about putting the £500m towards better street lighting?
Why not pour the money into programmes that could very well prevent crime? For example, teaching parents good parenting skills so their kids don’t end up as delinquents roaming the streets and vulnerable to criminal acts. Or what about empowering local communities? If pubs and clubs are magnets for youth who end up drunk or commit crimes, allow a community to shut them down. Why not give funds to local communities to come up with their own crime-cutting ideas and programmes?
Our society is one of blame and punishment, so why not spend part of the £500m figuring out how to make following the law more attractive? How do we reward socially acceptable or positive behaviour?
Or how about setting up a programme where ex-crims are put together with youth in a mentoring situation. And by this, I’m not talking mentoring a young person into crime! But perhaps a condition of the person’s parole is that once a week, he/she has to meet with a troubled youth, talking about how crime usually lands one in jail and talking to the youth about better pathways in life. If the young person gets into trouble, bingo, the crim goes back to jail.
There must be better ways to achieve crime prevention than throwing £500m at blinking eyes that fail to stop crime at its root cause. What do you think?
I have quite a number of American readers. I guess because a lot of issues that occupy my mind happen in the US and I blog on this stuff. So I thought today it might be interesting for my American readers to hear what three Australians have to say about the state of the US. All three have privately communicated with me and asked not to be named. I shall respect that.
The first Australian reader sent me a private communication the other day re observations from a trip to the US, six months after 9/11.
“I went to NY exactly 6 months after 9/11, before the finger printing etc.
Even at that time from the moment I joined the UA queue onto the plane in Sydney I noted in my note book about 70 things that were security/9/11 related. And all this in just 6 months. What has been added since? I came home and felt relieved that I didn’t see soldiers with guns in Sydney or even at the airport.
The things in the US were generally non invasive but “there”. eg the
prominent temporary (at that time) ballards in front of key buildings, the fact that the curtains were left open between economy and first class. Local women started wondering why there were so many emergency vehicles passing. Wall St blocked off, checks on bridge traffic etc.
All minor things on their own, but together demonstrating a seige
mentality and lack of trust. An atmosphere of fear and an understated
sense of warning. The difference between what I see as normal and what I see as restrictions and statements of some other condition for a city. Not at all the brave and free US I always thought it was. It was cringing and fearful. And as for the soldiers with guns. Some of those guys are huge. I had always hoped to go to [an annual conference]. When they asked this year why members didn’t attend, I told them. I wonder what they thought when they read my response.”
Okay, you say: this was just after 9/11, so of course there was a climate of fear. But the second private communication comes from a TS reader who has just spent a month in the US. Her first experience was with US immigration. She was using a new passport and left her old passport back home in Oz. For whatever reason, the immigration dude felt she had overstayed her visa following her entry to the US a year or two ago (her old passport had the exit stamp in it). Despite explaining the situation, she was hauled off and spent about 2 hours with a US official, who (as she put it) was the rudest individual she had ever met.
She was on the verge of saying, look I’ll turn around and fly back to Australia, when a second official came in and told her they would let her go. This is a professional woman in her 30s and she felt the whole experience was shattering and a bad start to her holiday.
The third person (a guy) emailed me saying he’d been to the States about 6 months ago and was alarmed by a number of things: a visible increase in homeless people; visible presence of CCTV cams and security measures; he was met with biometric identification equipment at the airport and felt it was very intrusive. He has decided not to go back to the States again.
Now, regular readers would know that despite extensive travel in the US (a country I very much like), I will never step foot in it again because of the circus that is US immigration, biometrics and a general climate of mistrust.
American readers: how do you react to these observations? Agree? Disagree? Couldn’t care less?
I was awake at 2.00am the other morning and I suddenly thought “I wonder if a recession would mean less money for costly border security and surveillance?”. (Yeah, sorry, I do wake up thinking about these sorts of things, sad I know). I was hopeful that Governments might have to abandon humongously expensive Big Brother and homeland security activities as they battle against global economic woes. So I decided to do some research.
I was thinking that, on the one hand, leaner times will see an increase in crime and an accompanying increase in surveillance systems. But on the other hand, the cost of manning the surveillance cams with security personnel might be too onerous so surveillance cameras could be abandoned. We might then get what I’ve blogged about before – talking CCTV cams. You just link CCTV cams to a central control room somewhere and an operator barks an order or two and these instructions boom out of CCTV cam speakers. You don’t need hundreds of staff manning local CCTV systems and can save costs. You can read more about talking CCTV here.
So the latest issue of Surveillance & Society had an interesting editorial, which you can download here. The editorial suggests that CCTV might be a casualty of the global financial hissy fit (I can only hope). Cash-strapped police forces and local councils around the UK are feeling the pinch and abandoning CCTV cams in town centres. The proven inefficiency of CCTV cams as crime prevention tools will cause a relook, particularly when the UK for example has such antiquated CCTV technology. Surveillance expert, Professor Nigel Gilbert has said ‘The evidence suggests surveillance cameras are completely useless as a way of reducing crime, their only use is as a way of collecting evidence a crime has been committed- it doesn’t stop it happening in the first place”.
I found this segment of the editorial particularly interesting:
“Certainly, we are going to see an interesting struggle developing between the behemoth security and surveillance industry and the many other industrial sectors, businesses and Local Authorities who are seeing the losses incurred through the operation of an increasingly baroque arsenal of surveillance technologies, border controls and databases.”
I also found this article in the Daily Mail saying that CCTV surveillance in the UK has cost taxpayers £500 million so far. Worcester City Council is giving the flick to its CCTVs because of the burden of paying staff to carry out surveillance (£140,000 a year).
So Governments and Councils of the world – here is the ThinkingShift tip to beat the Recession: cut back on ineffective and intrusive CCTV systems. And whilst you’re at it, read the House of Lords Constitution Committee’s final report of their Inquiry into Surveillance and Data Collection. The report, entitled ‘Surveillance: Citizens and the State“, observes:
“The UK now has more CCTV cameras and a bigger National DNA Database than any other country. There can be no justification for this gradual but incessant creep towards every detail about us being recorded and pored over by the state.”
Personally, I am praying for a shake-up with CCTV cams. Local councils and Governments IMHO cannot justify the massive costs associated with a CCTV surveillance programme when so much evidence points to the futility of CCTV as a crime-fighting or prevention tool. If they’re being abandoned, then rip them out and let’s get back to a society that is not being monitored by the “unblinking eye”.
I’m really pleased to see a number of articles over the last week or so discussing how surveillance is running rampant in contemporary society. I often feel like I’m some raving paranoid person going on about intrusion on our privacy by CCTV cameras, biometrics, ID cards and so on.
But The Huffington Post and The Times are now raising questions around facial recognition and video surveillance. Thank goodness, finally. But firstly, let’s remind ourselves how the surveillance society abuses our civil rights and privacy, often leading to some horror stories:
- a 22 year old man committed suicide in the lobby of a Bronx housing project. The CCTV cameras filmed this sad event. Somehow the surveillance footage ended up on the internet – on a pornographic website. The family who requested the tape were denied. Imagine their shock when they saw the footage on the internet.
- A US business man filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against a leading hotel chain after finding a hidden camera in a bathroom light fixture (thought you were safe in the privacy of your hotel room? think again!).
- Police officers zoomed CCTV cams in on nude models involved in an artist’s photo shoot and try to sell the footage. The artist assembled some 1700 volunteers on the banks of the River Tyne in the UK for one of those artistic large group nude shots. CCTV cams installed in the area were allegedly used by two police employees to take close-ups of people and tout the photos in pubs in the Tyneside area.
I could give you many more examples but you get the idea – surveillance systems that are supposed to be used for protection and security are abused.
But now it’s getting a bit more serious. Apple has just released iPhoto09. This is what iPhoto can do:
“... a new feature that allows you to organize your photos based on who’s in them. iPhoto uses face detection to identify faces of people in your photos and face recognition to match faces that look like the same person. That makes it easy for you to add names to your photos. And it helps you find the people you’re looking for — even in the largest photo libraries“.
Sounds innocent. You can find every photo of your cute kids instead of trawling through thousands of photos in your photo library. Even better, you can upload your tagged photos to Facebook. As Blogdial points out, what a bonus for the surveillance state – why spend millions on centralised databases when we will do all the work by uploading photos of named faces that are linked to our social connections and their named faces as well. And Lenovo’s new PC will log on users by monitoring their facial patterns. With shades of Minority Report, NEC’s new Eye Flavor is a digital signage system that can determine a person’s age and gender and help advertisers deliver targetted content on the fly.
Because of this enhanced technology, The Huffington Post says quite rightly we are moving into a entirely different era of surveillance. To quote:
“We have moved from periodic installation of hard-to-search analog video cameras to the vision of a pervasive, unified system that uses a variety of technologies to track individuals and their movements. These systems reflect the power of the convergence of technologies“.
With sophisticated facial recognition it becomes easier to track the occupants of a car and link the images to the car’s license plate, vehicle registration and GPS technology. A ring of surveillance is our future.
For those of you who continue to bleat “if you have nothing to hide…” consider this situation. You are eating your lunch quietly. A public facial recognition camera, without your knowledge, zooms in on your face and takes a snap. Your image is compared to those of wanted felons and child sex offenders. The police pass your image to the press despite the image not being an exact match (called a false positive). The press swing into action and publish your photo alongside the caption “You can’t hide those lying eyes…”. A woman sees the photo and calls the cops, saying that the photo is that of her ex-husband, wanted on child-neglect charges. But you are not married and have no children. The cops surround you a few days later. This actually happened to Rob Milliron, a construction worker in Tampa, Florida who was wrongly accused because of a video surveillance system.
Facial recognition software will be less unreliable as techology becomes more sophisticated. We then face the prospect of being monitored in real time. The Times says it better than me:
“So let’s understand this: governments and police are planning to implement increasingly accurate surveillance technologies that are unnoticeable, cheap, pervasive, ubiquitous, and searchable in real time. And private businesses, from bars to workplaces, will also operate such systems, whose data trail may well be sold on or leaked to third parties – let’s say, insurance companies that have an interest in knowing about your unhealthy lifestyle, or your ex-spouse who wants evidence that you can afford higher maintenance payments“.
If you are in the US, a new ACLU website will inform you of the location of video surveillance cameras. I continue to be alarmed by all this – it is not the business of Government to spy on its citizens. I fear though that too many of you will say well, what’s the harm? If an intelligent surveillance system can nab child molesters or track down men refusing to pay child support, then that’s a good thing you might say to me.
But you know, consider this: surveillance fosters suspicion. Employers not trusting employees, so they monitor keystrokes and install webcams to ensure staff are not spiriting away with pens and stationery; we use GPS to monitor our spouses to make sure they’re not having an affair and so on. And consider the abuse of video surveillance I started this post off with – what’s to stop police and the Government from racial or behaviourial profiling? What’s to stop insurance companies from monitoring you in real time to ensure you are not smoking, drinking and that you’re exercising? What’s to prevent the people behind surveillance systems from being prone to corruption?
Image source: geekologie.com
James Dellow really should know better than to send me stuff about public surveillance systems! But seems there’s something disturbing going on with CCTV cams in Wollongong that I have to ask some questions about. There are 40 CCTV cams (yep, 40) in Crown St Mall – the main street and shopping area for Wollongong, which is about 80kms south of Sydney.
During December 2008, another 40 webcams were added to the city’s surveillance system, targeting known trouble spots. Operating 24 hours a day, Wollongong’s city centre CCTV program is the first full internet protocol CCTV street system in Australia. The system’s bells and whistles alert police to crimes in progress and webcams provide footage. So far, your average CCTV surveillance system (let’s put aside for the moment that any would-be criminals would probably take their violence elsewhere, knowing that 80 webcams are staring down at them. And let’s put aside all the research that questions the effectiveness of CCTV as a crime prevention tool).
Wollongong’s CCTV system has taken a disturbing step further it seems to me. Here’s what happened.
- a youth who was quietly having coffee in the mall was nabbed by police (who happened to be present in the mall due to the CCTV expansion to 80 webcams). He was wanted for an outstanding arrest warrant for dishonesty charges.
- a second youth was walking through the mall with an adult and was nabbed by police for being in breach of bail conditions.
I can already hear some people saying “yeah, well good: these people were criminals and the CCTV cams did their job”. I can hear the bleats of people saying CCTV makes them feel secure and will help prevent petty or violent crime. And the usual tiresome drone of “if you having nothing to hide, why worry”.
Well, let’s ask some serious questions before we draw these conclusions:
- security guards were monitoring the cameras in the mall area. If this CCTV system is being used to reduce antisocial behaviour and criminal activity (which is what authorities always say CCTV cams are there for), then why is this system being used to scan people’s faces, run ID checks and nab people quietly having coffee or walking through the mall?
- I’ve long suspected that security guards monitoring cameras are doing things like zooming in on faces of people quietly having lunch or coffee; checking out young, attractive women (or men) walking by; or having a laugh over someone’s unfortunate hairstyle or dress sense. Wollongong’s experience would appear to highlight that security guards do just that – clearly they zoomed in on two young kids, somehow ran a security check, found out about their criminal history and the cops (who just happened to be there) swooped.
- so does this mean that none of us can quietly chat with friends over coffee or lunch without a webcam zooming in on us? Does this mean that the people behind these surveillance systems are running ID checks at the same time they are supposedly preventing petty crime?
- despite the fact the two kids nabbed had a brush with the law, at the time of their arrest, they were not in the middle of a criminal act. Why are security guards nosing around into the lives of these two kids? Okay, they probably deserve to be nabbed but the issue for me is not whether they are petty criminals. The issue is why are people behind security cameras going one step further than they should be – retrieving information about people; zooming in on faces of people having coffee; running security checks and so on.
- and how did the security guards know that these two naughty kids had an outstanding arrest warrant or were in breach of bail conditions? Is Wollongong’s public surveillance system linked up to other systems such as central police databases?
I will have to check this but it’s my understanding that covert visual surveillance is against the Privacy Act 1988. Visual surveillance in the “public interest” may be permitted for law enforcement authorities to deal with serious indictable offences. But if webcams are being used in a shopping area for what seems to me is clearly covert surveillance, well I reckon that could be in breach of the Privacy Act and the system is vulnerable to misuse or abuse.
What bothers me even more is the issue of equity – in contemporary society, we seem to have no choice but be surveilled via public CCTV cams, biometrics and so on. Authorities behind these surveillance systems can follow you around a shopping mall, down the street or through an airport – but we aren’t in a position to watch the watchers. It’s the issue of what sort of surveillance – overt or covert? And seems to me our society is hurtling right down the path of covert surveillance.
Unless I have my definition of democracy wrong, it means government by the people or their elected representatives (aka representative democracy). And this implies power lies with the people (citizens) and that the elected representatives are accountable to citizens. We, the citizens, can directly participate in decision-making. So there is no place under this definition for covert surveillance (aka secrecy) where citizens are unaware they are being watched or were not involved in the decision to permit covert surveillance. Transparency is paramount.
I am unsure whether there are signs in Crown St Mall saying that CCTV cameras are present so citizens can be informed. James, can you help me out – any signage? And what do you think about the CCTV cams in Wollongong?