London’s expansive CCTV network has always been under debate. Recently, a seemingly innocuous installation of talking cameras near London’s St. Pancras has set fire to the debate over the legitimacy of cameras in public areas. The talking cameras deliver a pre-recorded message (in an American accent) saying, “Stop, this is a restricted area and your photograph is being taken. It will be sent for processing if you don’t leave the area now”.
Camden Council, where the cameras had been installed, issued a message stating that “all flash cameras have the capacity to deliver voice messages when activated but in this instance it appears that voice messages were inadvertently activated when the camera batteries were replaced four to five weeks ago”. The council stated that there was absolutely no desire to limit public enjoyment of the public areas, and that voice messages will be deactivated.
But that does not appease such groups as Big Brother Watch, a UK pressure group condemning such practices of public surveillance. They claim that “This kind of technology may be acceptable in a police state or a science fiction film, but it is absolutely not in modern Britain”.
UK local councils claim that CCTV is used to prevent crime, anti-social behaviour, drug dealing, and keep civilains safe. But, Nick Pickles, of Big Brother Watch asserts that not only is the use of public surveillance lacking in proper regulation; but even, “The idea that a Robocop recording will tackle antisocial behaviour and crime is as laughable as it is a total invasion of privacy. Who knew councils had the authority to take your photograph simply because you walked into a communal garden?”.
With an estimated 2 million CCTV cameras installed throughout 20 boroughs across Britain, the debate over their legitimacy and effectiveness is likely to continue.