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Academic turns up volume on CCTV Bill proposal

Dragging the cameras out of the data shadows

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Analysis While British bobbies and Blakeys have installed more CCTV cameras than any other country in the world, the people have been "sorely lacking" regulation that watches the watchers, according to an academic paper that proposes the outline of a CCTV bill.

Existing laws give only limited protection to people caught on CCTV camera, according to Regulating CCTV, a paper which will be presented at the EthiComp conference in Tokyo this spring.

The author, Dr Andrew Adams of the University of Reading, has described how rapidly evolving surveillance technology could be easily abused by law enforcers, "crackers, stalkers and general busybodies" unless it was civilised by new laws.

The British authorities have also called for CCTV regulation, but for different reasons. A consultation paper due for publication jointly by the Home Office and Association of Chief Police Officers is expected to ask that CCTV operators be forced to upgrade their systems so CCTV footage could be used in a court of law.

But Adams warns in his paper that the police should not be allowed to commandeer the CCTV network and that its growth should be checked.

Law enforcers, border police, and local authorities are working toward a nationwide network of high definition CCTV cameras that can track and identify individual people, automatically detect and even predict their behaviour. This scenario was until only recently a staple of dystopian fiction. Adams' concerns appeared to reflect those of post-war science fiction writers like Philip K Dick.

"The creation of a massive accessible network of high quality CCTV cameras in the UK would present one of the biggest threats to individual privacy possible, when combined with the development of automated tracking, analysis, and identification systems," said Adams.

The intelligence generated by such a network, when combined with data drawn from disparate other civil and private databases, would be used to create what people in the emerging field of surveillance studies call a "data double".

The double, or "data shadow", is a "significant threat to individual privacy", said Adams, because it is an inherently inadequate estimation of a person's true identity that could nevertheless be used by its owners - the state authorities - to devastating effect.

"The identity of the data shadow, whether or not it is a reasonably close approximation of the identity of the person, has a significant impact on the life, and sometimes even death, of the surveilled," Adams told The Register in an email.

"The extreme example of this is Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot dead following surveillance mistakenly informing armed officers that he was a terrorist," he said.

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