The London borough of Camden has installed talking CCTV cameras in residential areas which literally threaten constituents outside their own homes.
The camera, spotted by London blog Big Smoke, was found in a residential estate of the borough in a communal garden. When approached, it blasts out an American voice demanding residents “stop” as it’s a “restricted area”. It tells residents that their photograph is being taken and “will be sent for processing” if they don’t “leave the area now”.
The Big Smoke blogger said in the video: “Absolutely outrageous, that’s the camera there, telling me that MY communal garden is a restricted area, and that I, a person who lives over there, have to leave the area now. Camden Council do not have the power to make my home a restricted area and tell me to leave it.”
Another Camden resident was equally outraged. He told TechEye: “It is truly outrageous, it feels like the local community is being hounded.
“First community support officers in the local area are allowed to confiscate your alcohol, now CCTV cameras are actually threatening residents. It is hard to guess what could be next.
“There may be problems with crime in certain areas, but to take pictures of honest members of the public outside their flat is a joke. The council should remove these Orwellian spy cameras and help reduce crime affecting local residents rather than employing inanimate objects to hurl insults at them.”
Unfortunately, it looks like Camden is following a worldwide trend of surveillance rather than leading the charge. Despite evidence that even regular CCTV cameras do not work as a preventative measure, privacy campaigners at Big Brother Watch warn that the technology is “something we will see more and more of”.
Nick Pickles, director of privacy at Big Brother Watch, said to TechEye: “Camden Council needs to come clean on who took the ridiculous decision to install this equipment and why they felt it appropriate for an American voice to shout at residents warning their own garden was a restricted area.
“This kind of shouting camera is totally inappropriate for a residential area, unless Camden council’s next plan is for all residents to be subject to a curfew?
“It is a sad indictment of the surveillance culture that has gripped many local authorities. We urge Camden to remove this equipment at the earliest opportunity and engage with residents about tackling any problems that exist on this estate.”
Camden Council spokespeople told TechEye that they are trying “to find out the details” and will get back to us.
*Update Camden Council has released a statement about the camera. It claims that all flash cameras have the ability to offer recorded messages and that this one was turned on by mistake.
Here is the full statement:
“Tackling antisocial behaviour is a top priority for Camden Council and we’re committed to ensuring the safety and security of each and every one of our residents.
“The flash camera on Walker House estate was installed in September 2011 in response to an increasing number of concerns from residents on the estate and complaints of antisocial behaviour.
“All flash cameras have the capacity to deliver voice messages when activated but in this instance it appears that voice messages were inadvertently activated when the camera batteries were replaced four to five weeks ago.
“We do not want to stop residents from enjoying their open spaces and communal areas and under no circumstances would we want voice messages to be used in areas where they may be disturbed. The voice messages will be deactivated as soon as possible.
“Since the flash camera was installed, we have received various positive feedback from residents on the estate who have been pleased with the way it, along with increased housing patrols, has resulted in improvements to the place where they live.
“We have installed similar flash cameras as a temporary deterrent in a number of other locations across the borough. They have led to a number of antisocial behaviour orders being obtained as a direct result of evidence from the cameras.
“Flash cameras are only ever installed as a temporary measure and are always supported by deployment of other resources.
“We will only consider the use of technology as a deterrent when it can help tackle antisocial behaviour and offer value for money.”