BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING
Council to use facial recognition cameras to monitor public
CONTROVERSIAL Big Brother-style surveillance software will be used to monitor the public across the city in a bid to stamp out crime.
BIG Brother-style “facial recognition” software installed on cameras in Glasgow will allow council staff to monitor crowds and look out for intruders or people loitering in parks, landmarks and back lanes, a freedom of information request has revealed.
The details emerged in guidance for staff on how to use the Suspect Search system which has been installed on around 70 CCTV cameras in the city.
They show that officers of Police Scotland and staff of the Glasgow City Council armslength body Community Safety Glasgow (CSG) will make use of “advanced video analytics” to track down individuals involved in crime or anti-social behaviour, and attempt to locate vulnerable individuals and missing children.
However the privacy campaigner who forced the release of the document has warned of a lack of transparency over how the system will be used, and questioned whether users will need to be authorised and if so who by.
Pippa King said: “I had to go to the Information commissioner to get Glasgow to release this document. But it still doesn’t tell us whether they will have to seek legal advice or human rights groups about this.”
“For example, who decides what loitering is, and what areas people are to be excluded from? Who is going to oversee and check this? Nobody I suspect. There is no other person tracking system operating like this in Europe.”
She said the public were not being informed about a significant change in the capabilities of CCTV in public areas, Ms King added.
“People should have an expectation that they can live their lives free of intrusion and surveillance. If you want to live in Glasgow you may soon not have that choice.”
The document “operational use of Advanced Video Analytics” sets out an overview of how CSG will use the system.
The system has been described as facial recognition, though a Community Safety Glasgow document setting out its use says “the advance functions do not provide facial recognition, emotional recognition or any other biometric type functionality.”
This is believed to reflect the fact that while the software can suggest potential matches, a human operator then has to review them to confirm an identification.
Nevertheless, it also says that a still image of a person of interest could be fed into the system which will then provide possible matches and routes they may have followed. If there is no image, it suggests an image similar to a photofit can be used, it says. “If no image is available an Avatar can be created of the description, which once completed can be put into the system for possible matches.”
The document says the system doesn’t need to be watched, as it can prompt an operator only when there is something of interest to view.
“Standard” uses, it says, would be to detect intrusion in identified areas “such as parks (nights) Glasgow landmarks (fountains) or areas identified by communities causing concerns (lanes, play areas).”
The technology will also be used to set up cameras so that they alert officers if someone enters a specified area, and to identify individuals deemed to be loitering, and CSG also streses the use of the system in locating criminals, identifying vulnerable people and tracking and locating missing children.
But Ms King said she was unconvinced. “They may not call it facial recognition but it is certainly capable of recognising faces,” she said.
Those tasked with using the system will be trained in incident management and data protection as well as use of the software itself, and only those authorised to operate Suspect Search will be permitted to use it.
A spokesman for Community Safety Glasgow said: “There is no confirmed date as to when the suspect search software will be put into operation as it is still going through the normal legal and approval process.
“Once approved, the system will only be operated by vetted staff and will aid operators in speeding up the process in looking for a missing child, for example, in the city.”
He said it did not use ‘facial recognition’ technology as such: “Suspect Search software allows operators to use a variety of other information to search camera feeds.”
People should have an expectation that they can live their lives free of intrusion and surveillance
The new software will allow council staff to monitor crowds and look out for intruders