Spy cams zoom in on football thugs

Reuters

When
English soccer fans take to the terraces next season, there’s every chance they
won’t just be watching the game, they’ll be being watched watching the game
too.

In the
latest addition to what civil liberties campaigners have dubbed

Britain’s
“surveillance society,” a British company is in talks to supply
wireless CCTV technology to a Premier League soccer club’s security staff.

Hidden in
lapels and hats, minute cameras would allow spotters in the crowd to beam live
pictures from inside the stadium back to a control room where the images could
be scanned in real-time for troublemakers and hooligans.

Already
trialed in city centers across

Britain
to cut down on crime, the technology is also used to tackle cash-in-transit
theft, an increasingly common form of robbery, and to protect VIPs, according
to 802 Global, the company that makes it.

While
negotiations with the unnamed Premier League club are still going on, Tim
Close, the director of sales and marketing at 802 Global, believes it’s only a
matter of time before wireless CCTV technology becomes widespread.

“It’s
adding an extra layer of security to the blanket,” he told Reuters.
“We see this as an overlay technology to enhance and build on traditional
CCTV surveillance.

“For
example, if the camera is in a helmet, it’s going to be trained straight at the
face of the suspect during a robbery, which makes identification much easier —
it’s more effective than ordinary CCTV.”

While that
may be the case — particularly when it comes to the young “hoodies”
who wear hooded tops to hide their faces — many Britons wonder whether this
extra layer is necessary.

Britain
is already the most tightly
monitored country in the world, according to civil liberty groups and security
experts, with an estimated 4 million closed-circuit television cameras spying
on roads, buildings, stations and shops.

Not only
does that equate to one camera for every 14 people, it also means that in a
major city like

London
— where CCTV is ubiquitous — people run the possibility of appearing on
camera up to 300 times a day as they move around.

‘Talking’ cameras

The extent
of scrutiny has not only raised the hackles of civil liberties campaigners, it
has also begun to concern organizations not traditionally associated with the
issue.

In a
report entitled “Dilemmas of Privacy and Surveillance” issued earlier
this year, the Royal Academy of Engineering warned that increased monitoring of
society risked provoking a breakdown of trust between individuals and the
state.

“The
state should remain the ultimate protector of citizen rights to privacy and
should not garner new powers to invade the privacy or increase surveillance
without strong justification,” it warned, its study marked with carefully
measured language.

That came
against the backdrop of government plans to introduce new digital identity
cards and expand its DNA database — both plans that provoked commentators to
declare the onset of an Orwellian “Big Brother” society.

In recent weeks
there was even more cause for concern with the introduction of
“talking” CCTV cameras in some towns, a system where unseen
controllers admonish misbehaving passers-by through a loudspeaker.

Mini,
remote-controlled helicopters rigged with cameras have also been introduced in
the north of

Britain,
allowing police to hover the aircraft over crime-ridden inner-city streets and
monitor events.

With each
new step, the government is quick to point out that the measures are intended
to protect society, not to invade people’s privacy — although there appears to
be an awareness that the line between the two may at times look thin.

Social glue

Many
people in

Britain
support the view that the scrutiny is for their own good — when crimes are
committed or children go missing, one of the first things callers to radio
stations or people posting on the Internet say is: study the CCTV footage.

At the
same time, civil libertarians have their concerns.

When Dolan
Cummings, a cultural critic and the editorial director of the
Institute of
Ideas,
was growing up in

Scotland,
he remembers cameras being introduced as an urban renewal measure, which ended
up proving successful. No one complained about an invasion of privacy.

“It
was the original sense of Big Brother as the benevolent overseer rather than an
authoritarian controller,” he said.

But the
ubiquity of cameras, and the idea that technology may supplant people and human
interaction to do the job of policing, raises concerns for him about the
erosion of the glue that holds society together.

“Rather
than dealing with the problem by bringing in more social glue — like I think
they have on the continent, in places like

Italy, through family — it
actually institutionalizes suspicions of one another,” he said.

“That
exacerbates the breakdown of civil bonds and mutual responsibility, which over
time is more damaging to society.”

And at the
end of the day, most football fans just want to watch the game unperturbed.

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