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CCTV in the UK *Note this is an archive feature from 1997. Updated comment and discussion here:
external link 'Rise of CCTV is threat to freedom'

"By the year 2005, the face of every second adult in the UK will be stored in a national government database." - Daily Telegraph 22/7/97

New Labour, same old shit. This disturbing report from SchNews about the growth in CCTV technology should be enough to make you go out and buy a false nose and beard immediately.

the ultimate ID card?
Face Recognition
Run to the woods!

What if SchNEWS told you that the world's most sophisticated database of facial images was being set up in Britain...without any legislation, parliamentary oversight or public consultation - not even a polite chat with the Data Protection Registrar. Welcome to the ultimate I.D. card.

Last week the Home Office quietly announced that as of October next year, photographs in all new passports will be digitised and stored electronically. The old system of laminating a physical photo into a passport will be replaced by a computer stored image sprayed directly onto the passport with a laser jet. Yes, that picture of you as a goofy fifteen year old with a manky haircut will be reliably stored forever - unless they use the fancy new IBM software that automatically ages your mugshot!

3.5 million photo images together with related data (personal and family details) will be stored each year on the database, resulting in the creation within 10 years of a searchable archive of 35 to 40 million people - even more than the conservative evidence given by the Telegraph.

The Home Office says the new passport will be quicker to process and more resistant to tampering, but Dr James Backhouse, director of the Computer Security Research Centre in the London School of Economics said "The mere existence of such a large and sensitive database invites all manner of threats. Digital images can be transmitted, analysed and matched just like any other data. My own view is that the development of this system should proceed with meticulous care and its planning should be subject to thorough public oversight".

A spokesman for the Home Office said the system would be operated in strict accordance with the Data Protection Act. But John Woulds, assistant Data Protection Registrar said the project was "in a different league" to most other databases, and his office "we've not consulted formally or informally about this."

The Passport agency systems are linked to a number of agencies including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and various Departments in the Home Office. Police are given access on request.

Simon Davies of Privacy International told SchNEWS "Although the Database will be managed by the Passport Agency it is in effect a Home Office facility. As a law enforcement tool it will be a choice prize not just for police, but also for security services such as MI5." The Home Office would not comment on the potential use of this technology, but it insisted that the new database was a necessary step to combat passport fraud. However, neither the Home Office nor the Passport Agency were able to provide any fraud estimates to justify the system. The Home Office suggested that the Passport Agency "may have done some work on this". However, the Agency is not responsible for such investigations.


Smile for the Cameras - It's CCTV Face Recognition Time

The potential to automatically match digitised passport images with photos from existing police databases and CCTV cameras is at the head of a barrage of privacy concerns. Several companies are well on the way to developing such technology. Miros Inc. has developed a system that can compare, in under a second, an image from a standard security camera with stored images.

The TrueFace system developed by Miros has been installed in 80 locations around the world. It claims to have only a 0.1 percent rejection rate, using an ordinary video camera lined to any PC.

Most automatic face recognition systems use "landmarks" on the face (eyes, mouth etc) or a combination with "eigenfaces" which measure the difference between light and shade. Adding or removing spectacles or facial hair makes only marginal difference to the system's accuracy.

Already Manchester City use face recognition at their Maine Road football ground and if Heathrow airport gets the green light for Terminal 5, they will use automatic face recognition, technology which has been part-funded by Marks and Spencers, the Police Foundation and British Aerospace.

Run to the Woods!

So should we be getting our knickers in a twist? Simon Davies told us, "It's always been the wet dream of authority to link faces with data and this will be a red letter day for them. The fraud argument is a confidence trick as the new passports will be just as easy to forge. The only winners will be the police, security services and anybody else - except of course ordinary people."

In the very near future we could see a triad working together of passport, digitalised driving licences and banks all feeding into the same databases. So why waste time with the political hot potato of ID cards when you can sneak this all past the public behind closed doors.

And if that hasn't got you hiding all paranoid behind your settee then there's always Europe. The Government is planning to join a massive "state security" system targeting millions of European citizens as part of a new drive to promote 'co-operation' between EU police and intelligence agencies. The Schengen Information System (SIS) keeps information on people regarded as a potential threat to public order. This includes 'aliens, illegal immigrants, drug-traffickers, serious crime suspects, football hooligans - and "meetings attended by large numbers of people from more than one member state." These include demonstrators, anti-roads campaigners- and of course rock music fans.

See also: The Rise of CCTV
For more info send an SAE to: Privacy International c/o SchNEWS, PO Box 2600, Brighton, BN2 2DX, England.

External links:
UK CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK)
CCTV: Does it work? (BBC Aug 2002)

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