Big Brother is watching you ... litter

by Saleem Khan, CBC News Online

England's network of surveillance cameras may have just jumped the shark. Authorities there are planning to spend about $1.13 million (500,000 pounds) to enable the devices to talk, apparently in a bid to cut down on littering.

The most monitored society in the world with an estimated 4.2 million closed-circuit TV cameras (according to watchdog group Privacy International) is adding speakers to the electronic eyes in 20 areas across the country following an initial test in Middleborough.

The cameras are connected to a central monitoring station, from which an attendant can issue instructions through speakers to people caught in the act – whatever that act may be, according to the BBC:

Home Secretary John Reid told BBC News there would be some people, "in the minority who will be more concerned about what they claim are civil liberties intrusions".

"But the vast majority of people find that their life is more upset by people who make their life a misery in the inner cities because they can't go out and feel safe and secure in a healthy, clean environment because of a minority of people," he added.

The talking cameras did not constitute "secret surveillance", he said.

"It's very public, it's interactive."

They even want to get kids in on the act:

Competitions would also be held at schools in many of the areas for children to become the voice of the cameras, Mr Reid said.

The decision really comes down to cost, according to one top official:

Downing Street's "respect tsar", Louise Casey, said the cameras "nipped problems in the bud" and reduced bureaucracy. "It gets across the message, 'please don't litter our streets because someone else will have to pay to pick up that litter again'," she told BBC News. "Half a billion pounds a year is spent picking up litter."

The country's privacy commissioner recently warned that Britain is becoming a "surveillance society".

What could be next? Tracking devices in people's shoes? Oh, wait. Those are already here.