Facial recognition, CCTV in taxis, and hummingbirds that take photos

It seems that CCTV technology is advancing more quickly than the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition can make half-hearted attempts to regulate it. If we sound cynical, please forgive us. No sooner has the Freedom Bill made its appearance — and been demonstrated to contain loopholes large enough to fly an unmanned drone through — than this article from the Daily Mail appears to show that we’re heading for a whole host of additional civil liberties threats just as we’re belatedly coming to grips with more familiar ones.

Cameras with facial recognition capabilities, 360-degree vision, and powerful zoom functions could — apparently — soon become ‘an established part of the CCTV landscape’. How the vague wording of the Freedom Bill can possibly hope to tackle such features is a complete mystery. We need much stronger, more specific legislation if we hope to halt or even slow the proliferation of cameras.

Unless we do take strong action, we may soon find ourselves on film every time we step into a taxi. For every morsel of genuine value that CCTV contributes to our lives, it seems to stifle and control us many times over. The more energy we, as a society, invest in surveillance and authority, the more we can expect those themes to be present in our lives. CCTV is presented as a response to crime, yet it is rarely considered that the money invested in bringing CCTV cameras to market, and their subsequent installation, is a powerful statement of priorities.

At a time when we badly need to be making serious efforts to tackle the approaching climate crisis, when instability in Libya and Egypt highlights our dependence upon foreign oil reserves, when innovation and creativity in meeting these challenges is so vital, serious support of CCTV is a deeply regressive act.

In America, where the Pentagon is ploughing hundreds of millions of dollars into surveillance, the ‘nano-hummingbird’ is just one example of the sinister machines making their way to market. Designed to look like — we’ll give you one guess — a hummingbird, it buzzes away discreetly while filming whatever is in the vicinity. Discreetly, at least, in areas where hummingbirds are relatively common. Here in England, the next development will presumably be the ‘nano-pigeon’.

These devices — or something like them — could be infesting our skies very shortly. It’s imperative that we stand up against them. This government, at least, is paying lip service to the concepts of civil liberties and freedom. Let’s press them hard to turn their words into genuine commitment

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