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New HD CCTV puts human rights at risk – Article 8 Human Rights – Independent


Watchdog warns: Big Brother Britain has arrived unnoticed

CCTV systems capable of identifying and tracking a person’s face from half a mile away are turning Britain into a Big Brother society, the UK’s first surveillance commissioner has warned.

New high-definition cameras are being rolled out across UK cities without public consultation into the intrusion they pose, Andrew Rennison told The Independent.

The increasing sophistication of surveillance technology is becoming so serious that Britain may be in breach of its own human rights laws, he said. There are already thought to be around 1.85 million CCTV cameras in the UK.

In a stark message to police forces and the Government, Mr Rennison predicted there will be a justifiable public outcry if facial recognition systems and HD cameras are allowed to proliferate on high streets, public transport and at entertainment venues. “The technology has overtaken our ability to regulate it,” he 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 anti-surveillance campaign group Big Brother Watch recently found that at least 51,600 CCTV cameras are being used by 428 local authorities – and that 100,000 are in use in schools, with as many as 200 using them inside toilets and changing rooms. More than a million cameras have also been installed on private land.

Mr Rennison is currently only responsible for technology employed in state-owned public places, covering less than 5 per cent of the cameras in the country.

But the Government intends to widen his remit to include schools and hospitals eventually, as well as shopping centres, whose cameras are private yet have effectively become “tools of the state”, according to Mr Rennison.

Mr Rennison – who is overseeing the introduction of the first official code of conduct for CCTV use and will report back to Parliament in April – added that the explosion of powerful surveillance technology could be in breach of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, which seeks to protect “private and 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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