High–definition CCTV cameras that can identify and track faces from half–a–mile away could turn Britain into a Big Brother society if left unregulated, the first surveillance commissioner has warned.
Andrew Rennison said new technology was being rolled out without public consultation.
It is so intrusive that Britain may be in breach of human rights laws, he warned, and most people are ignorant of how sophisticated technology has become.
“The technology has overtaken our ability to regulate it,” Mr Rennison said. “”I’m convinced that if we don’t regulate it properly – ie the technological ability to use millions of images we capture – there will be a huge public backlash. It is the Big Brother scenario playing out large. It’s the ability to pick out your face in a crowd from a camera which is probably half a mile away.”
The former police officer said he was concerned about high-definition cameras “popping up all over the place”. He said the Home Office research into facial recognition had reached a 90 per cent success rate and it is improving by the day.
He added cameras were now “storing all the images they record … and the capability is there to run your image against a database of wanted people.”
“The rapid advancement of digital technology means that 16-megapixel HD cameras are now very affordable, so people are buying a camera with a huge optical and digital zoom power.
“A tiny camera in a dome with a 360-degree view can capture your face in the crowd, and there are now the algorithms that run in the background,” he told the Independent newspaper.
“I’ve seen the test reviews that show there’s a high success rate of picking out your face against a database of known faces.”
There are now 1.85m CCTV cameras in schools including 100,000 in schools.
Mr Rennison is preparing a code of conduct on CCTV for Parliament. He said the explosion of surveillance technology could breach human rights laws protecting family life.
“I’d like the lawyers to help work our way through that and decide whether we remain Article 8 compliant in this country,” he said.
“I don’t want the state to carry on and start pushing the boundaries. Let’s have a debate – if the public support it, then fine. If the public don’t support it, and we need to increase the regulation, then that’s what we need to do.”
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