‘Talking’ CCTV Scheme Expanding

“Talking” CCTV cameras that tell off people dropping litter or committing anti-social behaviour are to be installed in 20 areas across England. They are already used in Middlesbrough where anyone seen misbehaving can be told via a loudspeaker, controlled by control centre staff, to stop.

Home Secretary John Reid has earmarked nearly £500,000 to fund the expansion. Critics say the cameras are absurd and another example of excessive government intrusion into everyday life. Mr Reid said they were aimed at “the small minority” who “litter our streets, vandalise our communities and damage our properties”. “We all pay council tax so, in the end, we all pay when our communities are disrespected – both in our pockets as well as in our daily lives,” he said.

The home secretary said competitions were being held at schools in many of the areas for children to become the voice of the cameras. “By funding and supporting these local schemes, the government is encouraging children to send this clear message to grown ups – act anti-socially and you will face the shame of being publicly embarrassed,” Mr Reid added.

The talking cameras will be installed in Southwark, in London, Barking and Dagenham, in London, Reading, Thanet, Harlow, Norwich, Ipswich, Plymouth, Gloucester, Derby, Northampton, Mansfield, Nottingham, Coventry, Sandwell, Wirral, Blackpool, Salford, South Tyneside and Darlington.

In Middlesbrough, staff in a control centre monitor pictures from 12 talking cameras and can communicate directly with people on the street.

Local councillor Barry Coppinger says the scheme has prevented fights and criminal damage and cut litter levels. “Generally, I think it has raised awareness that the town centre is a safe place to visit and also that we are keeping an eye open to make sure it is safe,” he said.

But opponent and campaigner Steve Hills said: “Apart from being absurd, I think it’s rather sad that we should have faceless cameras barking at us on orders from who? Who sets these cameras up?”

There are an estimated 4.2 million CCTV cameras in Britain.

A recent study by the government’s privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner, warned that Britain was becoming a “surveillance society”.