Tuesday, 12 February 2008

When surveillance cameras talk.

Big Brother is not only watching you; in Barking and Dagenham, Big Brother wants a word. The disembodied voices of authority offering advice and warnings that now issue as if from thin air in the hardscrabble east London borough are, in fact, talking CCTV cameras — the latest high-tech weapon in the war on littering, graffiti, vandalism and other antisocial behavior. Sixteen of the borough's 84 surveillance cameras have been wired for sound, making London's first video monitoring network with a broadcasting capacity. A second borough, Southwark, will soon adopt the same system.

Both communities are among the 20 nationwide awarded $50,000 grants by Britain's Home Office to test the cameras, following an initial trial run last year in the Northern city of Middlesborough. The talking cameras are the latest advance in a country that's embraced video surveillance with an enthusiasm that would make Orwell shudder. Liberty, a civil liberties group, conservatively estimates there are 4.2 million CCTV cameras currently in operation in the UK, one for every 14 residents. Anyone living or working in London will likely be captured on camera 300 times a day, the group claims. Indeed, the government's information commissioner, Richard Thomas, has called Britain a "surveillance society" in danger of becoming overly reliant on tracking technologies.

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