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What's on the horizon for surveillance cameras?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: National surveillance camera stratgey

As part of the National Surveillance Camera Strategy I’m working on we have a strand looking at horizon scanning which is being lead by colleagues at the Home Office Centre for Applied Science and Technology.

You may be wondering what horizon scanning is. Well, it’s not an attempt to predict the future (which is probably impossible!) but rather an attempt to point towards possible situations that may occur. It tries to identify signals that indicate the direction changes may take. Horizon scans often take the form of a PESTLE analysis which considers the political, economic, societal, technological, legal and environmental issues. However our main focus is on the technological changes that can be anticipated and the effects these may have on surveillance cameras, how they may be used in the future and how that use might impact on individuals’ right to privacy.

Surveillance cameras are changing

It is highly likely that the nature of surveillance cameras will change in the next 5 years to 10 years. Since town centre schemes were installed in the 1980s and 1990s in the UK technology has advanced enormously. We have gone from analogue cameras having their images recorded on video tape to digital cameras recording images on computer disc with the potential to store data in the cloud. The quality of digital cameras on your smart-phone far exceed the capabilities of an analogue CCTV camera.

Whilst the transition from analogue to digital technology is virtually complete across the UK much of the existing local authority CCTV infrastructure is still analogue (at least in transmission/cameras). The next major upgrade of this infrastructure will result in full transition to digital. Some councils are already adopting these technologies and this will demonstrate how the existing, local authority CCTV could be radically reshaped.

At the same time technology companies are fast improving automatic facial recognition software and other analytical capabilities. We are on the advent of superfast WiFi and 5G connectivity.  Digital data from a wider range of sources can be analysed and compared alongside surveillance camera images and information. Smart cities and the internet of things are no longer science fiction but becoming a reality.

Body Worn Video is become a standard issue piece of kit for police officers across England and Wales and we are seeing other organisations using it too. Will drones become a familiar sight in the skies above our towns and cities – Alastair Thomas mentioned this in his recent blog on the strategy. These advancements present us with many exciting opportunities we must be mindful of how they will impact individuals’ right to privacy.

Why horizon scan?

So, we’ve developed this high-level objective for this strand of work:

There is an early warning system to horizon scan technological developments with implications for the scope and capability of surveillance, so that the Commissioner can assess whether regulation is sufficient and advise Government accordingly.

This is important as sometimes technology can advance so quickly regulation can’t keep up. So, it’s really important that we can attempt to answer questions like:

  • Where is this type of surveillance going in the future?
  • What changes in technology are going to affect surveillance cameras?
  • Will public attitude change towards surveillance in general?

If we are able to answer questions like this we can attempt to develop a regulatory framework to ensure that surveillance cameras are used effectively, efficiently and proportionately.

What do you think of this objective and which areas of surveillance camera technology do you think we should be focusing on?

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