Digital Life

Police Camera Feeds Shared with London Public

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Police surveillance cameras cover much of London already. Now, a new community television channel is being launched where residents of one neighborhood will be able to monitor their local surveillance cameras. The idea is that regular people will be able to report — and deter — crimes. Detractors say it's another step towards creating an Orwellian city.


In London, you can find the same pattern of artists transforming a neighborhood from gritty to trendy. One of the latest places is called Shoreditch in London's East End. It's chock-full of nightclubs and galleries. But while the area has been largely cleaned up, some poverty and crime still remain. Kate Avercrombie(ph) is a local bartender.

KATE AVERCROMBIE: Where my bar is in Shoreditch, there was actually a stabbing there yesterday on the street.

MONTAGNE: And chances are that stabbing was caught on tape. England is home to more closed circuit public surveillance cameras than any other country in the world. Cameras blanket the city, monitored by police. Now, for the first time, they are set to be put to use by the public through a project called Shoreditch TV. It's a digital service that will allow residents to monitor live video images from local cameras. And it's part of a larger government effort bringing broadband technology to low-income areas.

Unlike police, home viewers won't be able to pan or zoom, and the images will be encrypted, making it harder to record them. The project's organizers say it will engage the community in fighting crime from the sofa. Civil Liberties groups in England and privacy experts abroad are expressing concern.

Prof. DANIEL SOLOVE (Professor of Privacy Law, George Washington Law School): It makes the outside look like a reality TV show.

Daniel Solove is a Professor of privacy law at George Washington Law School.

Prof. SOLOVE: Whenever you have a system of individuals who are watching over each other, that can sort of bring out the best in people, but it also can bring out the worst in people. What about people's prejudices? Are they more likely to watch activity and report it as suspicious because of a person's race, or if they don't approve of the activities that someone might do…

MONTAGNE: Like putting up political posters, for instance. But many of the residents in Shoreditch have no such concerns, like bartender Kate Avercrombie.

Ms. AVERCROMBIE: You know, it's not something that you feel that you're being watched. It's not something that I really think about each day or bothers me really.

MONTAGNE: Polls show that is the general consensus in England, where closed circuit TV in your home is set to roll out in trendy Shoreditch this summer.

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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