Surveillance Foucault Foucauldian camera surveillance cameras

Big Brother is Watching

April 2001 Advanced Imaging magazine, p. 30

"Know this: Big Brother IS watching you! He knows your face. He can spot you in a crowd. And nowhere is he watching you more intently than exactly where George Orwell predicted so many years ago: in the seedy, proletariat London neighborhood of Newham...

"The Newham Council in East London embarked on a massive program of over 300 CCTV surveillance cameras covering many foot main streets. The Cameras, mounted on 300- foot poles, provide a 24-hour bird's eye view to authorities. In order to take even further advantage of this CCTV coverage, Newham entered into a partnership with Visionics, Inc, in Jersey City, New Jersey, to provide instant face recognition for the images.

"Tim Pidgeon, Visionics Director of Business Development for Europe, based Winchester, U.K., explained to Advanced Imaging, 'The database is supplied by the London Metropolitan Police. It consists of individuals who: 1) live in [the] local area, 2) have [a] criminal record, 3) have been active in crime in the last 12 weeks.'

"He explained that the system is manned by civilian personnel. When the system thinks that it has found a match, it displays it to the civilian operator. At that point, the operator has no details other than the pictures and case number. 'The civilian will call the police and report that case number such-and-such has been seen on camera number something,' Pidgeon said. 'The police then take over control of relevant cameras and continue surveillance.'

"Pidgeon doesn't see any civil liberties issues in Newton. 'Our software is doing what policemen have been doing since time immemorial, looking for known criminals. The computer is merely more efficient. With 300 cameras it would take dozens of people per shift to scan the images. Scanning images for faces is a tedious, unpleasant job with a high rate of fatigue. Facelt never gets tired and scans all 300-plus CCTVs 24 hours a day to call possible matches to the attention of the human attendant.' And what happens when a known active, local criminal is spotted? According to Pidgeon, not much. 'Unless the person is engaged in criminal activity there's not much you can do but watch. The system was designed to prevent crime.'"