Oi you! Britain to install more talking cameras

LONDON Thu Apr 5, 2007 6:26am EDT

People walk past a building protected by a surveillance system in London November 2, 2006. Britain will fit more surveillance cameras with loudspeakers allowing security staff to berate people spotted dropping litter, fighting or vandalizing property, the government said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

People walk past a building protected by a surveillance system in London November 2, 2006. Britain will fit more surveillance cameras with loudspeakers allowing security staff to berate people spotted dropping litter, fighting or vandalizing property, the government said on Wednesday.

Credit: Reuters/Luke MacGregor

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Britain will fit more surveillance cameras with loudspeakers allowing security staff to berate people spotted dropping litter, fighting or vandalizing property, the government said on Wednesday.

Home Secretary John Reid hopes the talking cameras -- which have been on trial around the country -- will help cut crime. But critics say the idea is another lurch towards Britain becoming a "surveillance society."

The government has given nearly 500,000 pounds ($986,800) to pay for 20 new areas to install closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras that will allow staff to monitor pictures and talk directly to anyone observed behaving in an anti-social way.

"Talking CCTV is another tool in creating safer communities," Reid said in a statement. "It uses modern technology to allow camera operators to speak directly to people on the streets to stop or prevent them acting anti-socially."

Louise Casey, a civil servant who co-ordinates the government's Respect campaign to tackle bad behavior, said people could "face the shame of being publicly embarrassed."

"Talking CCTV ... is aimed at the small minority who think it is acceptable to litter our streets, vandalize our communities and damage our properties," she said.

Council chiefs in Middlesbrough, where the cameras have already been installed, said they had helped cut littering, vandalism and fights.

"Middlesbrough's cleanliness has improved dramatically since the speakers have been installed," said council security manager Jack Bonnar.

Civil rights group Liberty has described the new cameras as a "high-tech toy (that) gives camera operators massive powers to invade the lives of ordinary people."

Britain is the most watched country in the world, with an estimated 4.2 million CCTV cameras, or one for every 14 people.

The government already faces accusations that planned identity cards and a national computer database of personal details will increase state intrusion into people's lives.

The privacy watchdog warned last November that Britain was turning into a "surveillance society."

"More and more information is being collected," said Information Commissioner Richard Thomas. "Humans must dictate our future, not machines."

Liberal Democrat party leader Menzies Campbell accused the government earlier this year of "snooping" into every part of people's lives.