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Should we be worried about Glasgow’s new hi-tech surveillance system?

Should we be worried about Glasgow’s new hi-tech surveillance system?

A new state-of-the-art surveillance system is currently being installed across the city

Glasgow triumphed over 29 other UK cities to win the multi-million pound funding from the Technology Strategy Board to trial the new system which promises to make life in the city "smarter, safer and more sustainable".

But should we be welcoming the new technology as a force for good or worrying about further intrusions into our personal space?

The surveillance network has been devised by Israel-based NICE Systems, who specialise in telephone voice recording, data security and surveillance.

Set up in 1986, NICE Systems was reportedly founded by a group of ex-Israeli army colleagues originally for military applications before shifting into the civilian sphere.

The plans, which are part of the local authority's £24m Future Cities Programme, aim to create a fusion of CCTV operation, road networks, traffic lights, and traffic cameras which detect "unusual behaviour".

As part of this, any unusual activity, such as rallies or demonstrations, that is detected on the 400 HD cameras will trigger an alarm in the new integrated command centre, prompting further investigation.

NICEsystems1

Promotional video from NICE regarding the new Glasgow system.

'Lack of transparency'

Glasgow MSP and Scottish Green Party co-convener Patrick Harvie warned that the new system was a potential 'threat to freedom'.

Mr Harvie said: "Glaswegians are already under far more surveillance than most of us are aware of, and this is a serious challenge to our privacy and civil liberties.

"Few people would want to do away with tools like CCTV altogether, but it needs to be used proportionately and it needs to be kept publicly accountable.

"There is a lack of transparency and democratic oversight surrounding this new programme, and that creates very real threats to our freedom".

He added: "It’s a vital principle that we are all innocent until proved guilty, but in the age of mass surveillance we’re all treated as suspects every day of our lives.

"I call on Glasgow City Council to disclose the nature of all surveillance systems they use now or are planning to use, and to consult the public on how they will operate and what democratic controls are in place to limit the power of those currently watching our every step."

Watchdog Privacy International went further, highlighting concerns over NICE Systems' relationship with countries in Central Asia, which is detailed in their Private Interests Report.

Edin Omanovic, researcher at Privacy International, said: "Modern surveillance is based on the notion that just because something can be done technologically, then it should.

"NICE and Glasgow officials market these new systems as simply improving or streamlining existing capabilities, but in fact they are creating more surveillance powers throughout the city aiming to track everyone’s movements.

"What may be more worrying though is that Glasgow has contracted with a company like NICE at all; a company that is very eager to boast about the Glasgow contract, but are not so transparent about the other work they do," he added.

"An investigation by Privacy International last year found that NICE is also in the murky business of providing mass and intrusive communications surveillance systems to Kazakhstan’s KNB and Uzbekistan’s SNB, two security agencies widely implicated in human rights abuses."

Mr Omanovic said: "Monitoring centres sold by NICE to these repressive states aim to allow direct, unchecked access to the telephone calls and internet activity of the civilian population on a mass, indiscriminate scale, and NICE maintains an open relationship with these countries even as human rights abuses are ongoing.

"Despite this, Glasgow officials have trumpeted how great of a company NICE is, and how happy the city should be have them as partners.

"These leads us to one of two conclusions: either the council has not taken appropriate due diligence, or it has and decided that it is appropriate for public money to be given to a company we have found to be involved in such activities."

Tackling crime

Speaking about the new system, a spokesman for Glasgow City Council said the new system did not use facial recognition or monitor emotional intelligence but would make the city safer and more sustainable.

He said: "Glasgow's existing outdated Public Space CCTV network is being replaced by new high definition cameras.

"Four hundred existing cameras are being replaced as part of this programme.

"Glasgow won the £24m Future Cities funding from the UK Government in a competition to demonstrate how technology can make life in the city smarter, safer and more sustainable.

"It has to be spent within that remit and not on anything else. NICE Situator and Vision software does not involve facial recognition, emotional intelligence or monitoring of social media or emails as has been inaccurately reported."

He added: "Installation of the new CCTV cameras has begun and the NICE Situator and Vision software is in place.

"A trial of NICE's video analytics is planned for later in the year. This involves Suspect Search which can be used to find missing children or vulnerable adults quickly, such as those with dementia, as well as tackling crime. Again it does not involve facial recognition or emotional intelligence.

"We are trying to make Glasgow a safer place for everyone who lives and works here and who visits the city."

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