Big Brother is Watching in Great Britain

Orwell knew what he was talking about. Bloomberg reports that in Great Britain “about 4.2 million spy cameras film each citizen 300 times a day.” They not only watch but now talk back:

It’s Saturday night in Middlesbrough, England, and drunken university students are celebrating the start of the school year, known as Freshers’ Week.

One picks up a traffic cone and runs down the street. Suddenly, a disembodied voice booms out from above:

“You in the black jacket! Yes, you! Put it back!” The confused student obeys as his friends look bewildered.

“People are shocked when they hear the cameras talk, but when they see everyone else looking at them, they feel a twinge of conscience and comply,” said Mike Clark, a spokesman for Middlesbrough Council who recounted the incident. The city has placed speakers in its cameras, allowing operators to chastise miscreants who drop coffee cups, ride bicycles too fast or fight outside bars.

This makes you wonder how long it will be until they equip television sets with spy cameras as in 1984. Great Britain has already spent one billion dollars on spy cameras over the past decade and has one for every fourteen citizens. There are plans to expand the system:

By 2016, there will be cameras using facial recognition technology embedded in lampposts, according to the Surveillance Studies report. Unmanned spy planes will monitor the movements of citizens, while criminals and the elderly will be implanted with microchips to track their movements, the report says.

There have been civil liberties concerns raised over the cameras along with Great Britain’s massive DNA database. The database helped solve 45,000 crimes in the United Kingdom last year but there have also been cases of people falsely identified, such as a man who was charged with a crime two hundred miles from where he lives who turned out to have sever Parkinson’s Disease and could not have traveled there. In addition to the cameras and DNA database, concerns have been raised over plans to add the medical records of 50 million people in the state-run health care system into a central database without their consent. There are also plans for “biometric ID cards linked to a national register holding every citizen’s fingerprints, iris or face scan.”

Professor Nigel Smart of the University of BristolĀ  warns of a different privacy concern–the informtion people post on social networking sites. reviews these privacy issues.

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