The UK surveillance society


How many cameras would you need for complete surveillance of a large country?

Britain’s answer is one for every 14 people…plus “spy drones“:

The latest gizmo to be employed in what civil liberty campaigners are calling Britain’s “surveillance society” is a small, remote-controlled helicopter that can hover above inner city streets and monitor suspected criminals.


Britain is now the most intensely monitored country in the world, according to surveillance experts, with 4.2 million CCTV cameras installed, equivalent to one for every 14 people.

So blanketing is the surveillance that the average resident of London runs the possibility of being photographed up to 300 times a day just moving around the capital, civil liberties campaigners Liberty say.

The pervasiveness of the cameras, combined with the government’s plans to introduce digital identity cards for all citizens in the coming years and expand its DNA database, has led to calls for a halt until the impact can be better studied.

According to some reports, this surveillance could actually be self-defeating and contain the seeds of its own contradictions:

In a report issued earlier this year, the Royal Academy of Engineering warned that increased monitoring of society actually risked provoking a breakdown in trust between individuals and the state, eventually causing more harm than good.


“If people start to feel they are constantly under surveillance, the feeling of being watched starts to create the behavior that the surveillance was there to prevent,” said Kirstie Ball, an expert in the impact of surveillance on society and a professor at the Open University Business School.

“Once you feel the screws are being turned, that your every move is being pinned down, you actually start trying to find ways to get around what’s become a pervasive system.”

More here on “talking” spy cam CCTVs.

Then there is the possibility of dropping the national ID card because it is part of the “illiberal” Blair administration.

Isn’t it in fact liberal in the sense of governing us for our own good?

Update. I’d almost forgotten about this story from way back in 2002, about a DARPA project to make “tiny flying robots” for surveillance:

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is funding much of the work because of its potential application in both reconnaissance and surveillance.

Officials envision soldiers deploying the robotic insects in battle, using them to snoop as only a fly on the wall can.

“It takes an individual and extends their sensory capabilities – like a periscope – but it flies independently,” said Roy Kornbluh, an engineer at SRI International in Menlo Park. Along with DARPA, the firm has funded development at the University of Toronto of another flapper, a four-winged robot called “Mentor.”

As I commented in my book, this story is prefigured by Philip K. Dick’s 1969 novel Galactic Pot-Healer, which features tiny flying insect bots.


One Response

  1. […] Last May I noted that the UK police were planning on implementing a remote control spy drone that can hover over crowds and perform unobtrusive surveillance. […]

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