By David Crane
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October 9, 2012
Appropriately enough, a British publication called The Independent has published a story on a Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) / Minority Report-type high-definition (HD) CCTV facial-recognition technology that has the capability to identify and track a person's face from a half-mile away, taking tactical biometrics to the next level on a potentially global scale, and that's a little scary. It goes without saying–but we'll write it, anyway–that the cameras will record you, store the images, and match your face against a database of wanted individuals. The small 360-degree-view domed cameras can already succefully pick your face out of a crowd 90% of the time, and the technology is still "improving by the day". So, good luck hiding from the Man.
Of course, London (and the rest of the UK), being the EU bastion of totalitarian control that it is, gets first dibs on it. "I'm convinced that if we don't regulate it properly – ie, the technological ability to use millions of images we capture – there will be a huge public backlash. It is the Big Brother scenario playing out large. It's the ability to pick out your face in a crowd from a camera which is probably half a mile away," says one Andrew Rennison, the UK's first "Surveillance Commissioner" (nifty title). In other words, a British government agent is worried about it turning Britain into a "Big Brother" society. Perhaps we should, too.
As this is written, HD CCTV cameras with the new facial-recognition biometric technology are popping up all over the UK. So, why is DefenseReview (DR) concerned about? Quick question: How long until American cities follow suit and acquire the new tech for all major (and perhaps medium-sized and small) cities and large towns? What happens if every U.S. highway lamp and/or streetlight or traffic light is eventually equipped with a polarized HD camera (with the biometric scanning hardware/software package) that can see right through your front windshield and/or side windows, so they can identify and track you wherever you go? What if the hardware/technology ends up in every major office building, shopping mall, and/or store?
These are just some of the questions that must be asked and answered before we end up going the way of England, our older, now totalitarian older, if much smaller, brother accross the pond.
The anti-surveillance campaign group Big Brother Watch recently found that at least 51,600 CCTV cameras are being used by 428 local authorities – and that 100,000 are in use in schools, with as many as 200 using them inside toilets and changing rooms. More than a million cameras have also been installed on private land.
And that's just in Britain! That's A LOT of freaking cameras. The only glitch for the British government is that the new HD surveillance cameras with facia-scanning biometric technology may be in violation of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act (1998). Oops. Rennison says he wants a public debate on it, and will move forward based on (British) public feedback, the same public that's accepted pretty much every new surveillance technology introduced, so far. "Automatic number-plate recognition systems are now used by every police force in the country remotely to track suspect vehicles' movements, systems to identify people reminiscent of science fiction films are also becoming available," according to the The Independent.
So, how effective are surveillance cameras at solving actual crime? Apparently, not very. The Metropolitan Police conducted a study and discovered that 1,000 CCTV cameras solved less than one crime per year. Not good. If HD CCTV surveillance cameras equipped with the new facial recognition tech ever get deployed all over the U.S., let's hope they're significantly more effective at combating terrorism.
Defense Review doesn't yet know who makes the cameras or facial scanning and analyzing software, but we'll try to find out. If anyone in the UK is reading this, please drop us a line (email or comment) with the various company/brand names. Thank you.
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