Powerful CCTV cameras which can recognise and track faces from more than half a mile away are being installed across the country without public consultation, it has been claimed.
The UK’s first surveillance commissioner, Andrew Rennison, has issues a stark warning to the Government by saying that advances in CCTV technology could breach human rights law.
He warned of a ‘public backlash’ unless proper steps were taken to regulate the proliferation of 16-megapixel HD cameras with the potential to pick out a face and then match it against a database of images of wanted people.
‘The technology has overtaken our ability to regulate it,’ he told the Independent.
‘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.’
Research being carried out into automatic facial recognition technology by the Home Office has achieved a 90 per cent success rate and is still improving, Mr Rennison said.
He is expected to report back to Parliament with any concerns over how CCTV and automatic number plate recognition systems are being used.
His concerns were today echoed by civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch. However, the organisation claimed Mr Rennison needed to be given more power from the Government to clampdown on CCTV.
Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties at the campaign group said: ‘The Commissioner is absolutely right to warn about the risks of new CCTV technology.
‘However, the Home Office has undermined the Commissioner from the start by giving him absolutely no powers to do anything.
‘Proper regulation of CCTV needs someone to have the power to inspect cameras and punish those breaking the law. If the Home Office is serious about this issue then the surveillance camera commissioner needs proper powers to protect our privacy.’
Mr Rennison called on lawyers to help ensure surveillance techniques remained in line with Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, which protects private and family life.
He told the Independent: ‘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.’