Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Big Brother Has Been Found

He is –you-.

In England today there are millions of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras pointed at public places.  Fortunately (depending on your point of view), most of them are completely unmonitored the vast majority of the time.  

Seeing an opportunity to leverage the voyeuristic inclinations of millions of  people at home with time and computers on their hands, a group of entrepreneurs have created a company called Internet Eyes where you can register for free to randomly watch some of these.  If you spy someone Doing Wrong (shoplifting, being impolite to a picture of the Queen, what-have-you) you can peck a button and send an alert.  If you alert a shop-owner to a crime you can be eligible for an award.

So what do you think?  Is this “Crowd Sourced” surveillance a Bridge Too Far into invading privacy, or just a sign of changing norms?

From the Guardian article:

So these three guys – two IT professionals and a former restaurateur – have this idea. There are 4.2m CCTV cameras in Britain, they say to themselves, except only one in a thousand is being watched at any one time, because manning them all would cost too much. The average Brit is filmed 300 times a day, yet overall crime rates are rising and conviction rates are down (their assertions, by the way).

But what if the whole nation – heck, why not the world? – were to be monitoring those cameras? What if you streamed them on to a website, and offered internet users a cash reward whenever they spotted a crime? You could charge the camera owners £20 a week per camera to have their feed included: loads cheaper than spending hours trawling through footage to see who nicked what. Brilliant, no?

Tony Morgan, James Woodward and David Steele plainly reckon so. They’ve sunk, one imagines, a tidy sum into Internet Eyes. There’s the software, a website, a Facebook page, a press release. The scheme is currently trialling in Stratford-upon-Avon with an undisclosed number of shops and businesses (although as yet neither the police nor the local authority, who are diplomatically declining all comment), and will go live nationwide next month.

Registered surfers will compete for up to £1,000 a month, collecting points by watching a selection of anonymous cameras and clicking a button whenever they see something suspicious. The click will send an SMS and a still image to the camera operator, who decides whether to do anything about it. (You can lose points for sending a false alarm.) Says Morgan, who insists this is “not a game – these are not prizes, they’re rewards for spotting crime”, Internet Eyes “could turn out to be the best crime-prevention weapon there’s ever been”. What’s not to love?

Um, quite a bit. The civil liberties people are up in arms, obviously. Even Michael Laurie, head of Crimestoppers, foresees a “wide range of opportunities for abuse and error” in what is, for him, “essentially no more than a commercial venture exploiting some people’s baser characteristics”. And while Morgan is confident his scheme complies with the Data Protection Act, the assistant information commissioner, Jonathan Bamford, is not so sure.

This seems potentially like a huge loss of privacy, but what has really changed?  Since the first person pointed a parallel-port camera out their window and started posting jpegs one after another to a web page – what’s new?  The scale?

Pick your nose on your front porch in Dorset, Ontario in 1983 and no-one had a digital camera – live or Memorex – but maybe a Polaroid got snapped.  In 1963 the picture would never have gotten captured at all, but Mrs. Smith saw it and you know she told everyone in the quilting circle she saw the dirty hippie with half his hand disappearing up his greasy snout.  In 1863 it was a rare week’s journey from Dorset to the City to the south and you lived with a hundred people who never got more than a mile away from each other and everyone else knew more about how you picked your nose than you knew yourself.  You probably weren’t living in a home by yourself anyway – the generation before and after and parallel to each side probably shared a few rooms, or the fortunate few had servants recording every pick and sharing it at the tavern.

I guess my interest is more in considering where all this is taking us than in trying to figure out how to stop it.  Unless I am significantly mistaken there is going to be no roll-back of the digital camera nor law against pointing them at the street in front of your house or the inside your store.  I think it will be some time (if at all) before the government cameras already everywhere (particularly in places like England) are all streamed live to the web, but if the quirky experiment that started this thread turns out to have a surprisingly dramatic impact on lowering crime then we just might see public opinion turn on a relative dime on that topic, too.

I’m not the author of the world’s trends, only a very lowly editor.  I’ll be content if I can read the copy well enough to change an interesting comma or two along the way.

What do Mooses have to say?



    the places a person can safely make a minor clothing adjustment.  

    I suppose taking this voyeurism down the slippery slope and along the garden path, eventually everyone will be at home watching so there will be nothing “out there” to see.

  2. Shaun Appleby

    If this doesn’t create some marvellous ‘street theatre’ opportunities.  Blair Witch Project meets Halflife 2.

    Do you think it is possible to create a low-budget film using entirely public CCTV cameras and captured footage?  An interesting challenge for avant garde cultural creatives, I’m thinking..

  3. Cheryl Kopec

    My first reaction is, “Why not? As long as it only captures images from public places, you have no expectation of privacy anyway.” And I actually proposed a similar idea for border control, which I’ve since learned is already in operation. But many of the photos would find themselves online, and there is that whole “model release” thing. Also, what if someone were spotted, let’s say, boarding a plane to Argentina instead of hiking in the Appalachians like he was supposed to be, or what if your sweetie just caught you buying the diamond ring you were going to surprise her with at dinner next week?

    And even worse, what are the possibilities for misuse? Blackmail? Etc.

  4. rfahey22

    I doubt that this will deter much if any crime, unless the people who use this service obsessively watch over 12 hours of film a day.  On the other hand, I could imagine a situation in which someone monitors a known individual for some sort of illegal activity.  Maybe the implementation of this program would prevent that sort of thing, but I suspect that it will be abused more often than it will prove useful.

  5. spacemanspiff

    That means you could literally track every move of anybody who ventured outside.

    This is a bit creepy for me.

  6. alyssa chaos

    thought, ‘what is the point of the cameras?’ Is it to deter crime? to make people feel safe?  to use in a investigative manner? could be all three. could be none.

    Do they really deter crime? It might deter small timers but dont think it really phases the crazy psychos.

    I guess some people might feel safer knowing their every move is being watched by some stranger behind a computer. Really wouldn’t make me feel safe.

    Its definitely helpful in terms of investigating a place once you already know where the crime happened.

    To catch crime happening in real time you need people watching the output, no way of getting around that. Lots of camera output demands alot of people. It makes sense to get more people reporting crimes happening in real time. The money incentive would help with that…

    Ultimately though, it seems awkward to have a private entity benefitting from public camera feed, if it were to expand from privately owned establishments participating to all cameras that operate in public areas.

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