A couple of days ago the Security Minister Ben Wallace announced the launch of a competition open to the “country’s brightest talents” to help the Government “reduce the threat from terrorist attacks using weapons or explosives.”
What can this mean? Are the Government so lost for solutions that they need to create a competition to help them figure it out and what on earth are they looking for entrants to propose?
So as technology companies around the country are getting ready to dig out and dust down their most intrusive surveillance ideas ready for submission in the hope of seeing their big ideas crowned victor what might we see? Ideas such as enhanced CCTV which promises to use facial biometrics, voice recognition or 3D analysis of people’s gait or movement? All public facing technologies mounted on public and private buildings to use facial biometrics? An increased roll out on the secretive IMSI catchers which monitor mobile phones in public places? Tools to increase surveillance and hacking via the use of public Wi-Fi? Further moves to embed surveillance tech on clothing worn by police officers, officials, security guards?
These capabilities already exist (we haven’t made them up), infact we have long warned about the plans to increase surveillance on our streets; our report into the decrease in CCTV by local authorities highlighted that a number of these capabilities were waiting in the wings. But with the launch of this competition we suspect it is only a matter of time before the Government puts its hands in it’s pocket and awards costly contracts to the companies developing such technology.
Whilst many people will feel that this move by the Home Office will be a step in the right direction and a real opportunity for the development of innovative ideas, let’s remember that mass surveillance technology on our streets, such as CCTV, hasn’t reduced crime and hasn’t, on its own, prevented a terror attack happening.
Let’s also not forget that without sight of the Home Office’s long overdue biometric strategy we don’t know what policy or legislative measures are already in the pipeline or indeed already being rolled out. Such as the creation by three police forces of facial biometrics using their custody photo databases, or the fact that the Home Office have invested money in the use of facial recognition by South Wales Police; the deployment of which took place during the Champions League final in Cardiff in June.
Investment in these tools, which are using images of people who have been found innocent as well as guilty and are so far largely unproven as actual workable technologies, is clearly picking up pace and yet as the Government sit on their Biometric Strategy there is no regulation, no guidance and no oversight.
After two decades of surveillance on our streets, it is time that the Government was honest with the public about the true value of surveillance technology and stopped pretending that tech will prevent bad things happening. Solid policing, investigation and communicating with communities have all been shown to be of greater benefit than deploying eyes in the sky. If only the Home Office had invested their £2 million in that, rather than in Robocop.