It's been described as CCTV for the masses. It's been dubbed by its founder as Little Brother. It's the future of CCTV and it's coming to a community near you soon. And if you live in Spitalfields, East London then it already has.
Shoreditch are a company intent on one thing - reducing crime and fear in communities. Their solution? Community CCTV cameras. Up to 400 (yes, 400) CCTV cameras erected in a single residency. Accessed by everyone and anyone who lives there. (Yes, even the paedophiles) From the comfort of their own front room too. It's a revolution. A saviour. They call it 'fighting crime from your sofa'.
But even the founder has admitted it won't deter crime. What it will do is make the resident's feel safer. So, a bit of false advertising there, (see website) or more accurately, a false sense of security for the residents. Hmm. Not a good start.
Some may feel that this Little Brother is harmless, but one has to remember. Little Brothers do grow up. Is this the world we want our children to grow up in? If you take your child to the park and see a lone man standing by a tree watching them, at least you can remove your child from his gaze. With Little Brother in place, how will you ever know if your child is being watched by unwanted eyes or not?
Despite the obvious breach of privacy the Little Brother's pose, they are undoubtedly open to all sorts of abuse. Snooping, spying, stalking. When I put my concerns to the Shoreditch company they responded with the reassurance that there are 3 safeguards in place to prevent abuse of the cameras.
1. Only public areas are visible on the cameras. (So that would include play parks, shops, community centres, libraries...)
2. There is no pan, tilt, or zoom facility available to subscribers. This means they are unable to focus on an individual. (But the cameras do have a recognition distance in place so individuals can still be indentified...)
3. The views from the cameras are set to rotate from view to view with 30 seconds only for each view. The order of views is also randomised, making it impossible to trace an individual's journey.
Hmm. Interesting point there, number three. My home town has a 'novelty' public CCTV camera in the city square, accessible by anyone via the city council's website. It doesn't have a 'randomised' view and does allows the user unlimited access, allowing you to trace an individual's journey. Oh and it also has the wonderful 'pan, tilt and zoom' facility. If authorities can set it up in the 'public area' of the city square without civil liberties being breached, then there is always the possibility of these controls being added to the community cameras.
Shoreditch went on to reassure me that actually 'the local authority welcomes the scheme because there is a limit to how many people they can employ to look over their cameras. By having a community of eyes on the cameras, it increases their ability to spot and respond to incidents, and in that way contributes to the authority's local crime-fighting capabilities.'
Ah, so it's just a way of getting the public to do the police's job again, not a crime-fighting-from-your-sofa deterent. Oh but wait, crime in the Spitalfields area is actually falling anyway, as quoted by Dan Hodges of the Shoreditch Trust. It's the fear of crime that's rising. Now I see, Little Brother is merely a tool to quash fear in local residents.
Perhaps what they should really be fearing is Little Brother, creeping into a community near you soon.