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Big brother is watching: do you feel safe?

Ross O. Storey | June 2, 2010
The trade-off between personal privacy and community security.

Increasingly, it seems that modern society is willing to trade off individual privacy in return for a perception that everyone will have greater personal security.

This thought came to mind when I received a media pitch about the new Smart HD security camera system from Panasonic Systems Asia Pacific, to be launched next week in Singapore.

The pitch stated that If we have your face, you cannot get away and extolled the virtues of Panasonics new high definition security camera with built-in face recognition system that captures and identifies any perpetrator terrorist, shoplifter or robber.

It painted the following scenario: A terrorist tries to enter Singapore. His image is captured on a state-of-the-art closed circuit television (CCTV) camera. The CCTV provides a high-resolution picture and automatically lights up the image even though it is dark and the surroundings are dim. What is more, the intelligent CCTV system recognises the terrorist by name because of face recognition software contained in the system. It alerts the authorities and they act accordingly.

Catching shoplifters

And there is this second scenario outlined by the PR pitch: A serial shoplifter enters a supermarket or retail store. A list of serial shoplifters works with the face recognition system and gives an alert to relevant supermarket personnel who can then monitor the customer.

Panasonics target markets, said its PR people, are government, homeland security, transportation, supermarkets, retail stores, banks and schools. It intends to conduct demonstrations of this new system to agencies that are in charge of entry points and also to supermarkets and other establishments that need an effective security system.

The revolutionary system combines a high definition camera with a face recognition system and provides sharper, clearer pictures compared with existing systems, said the pitch. The pictures are also automatically adjusted for lighting conditions to capture a clearer human face, which allows the picture of any perpetrator to be easily recognised.

This is all well and good, but I cant help but feel a little uneasy about having cameras follow my every move when I am anywhere in public. As always, the proponents of such public monitoring will argue that its all for the greater community good; that everyone will be safer.

Just let us examine your every move and you will be safer because, if you have nothing to fear, you will be OK, the Big Brotherites will tell you.

Tech extremes

Taking this to logical extremes, it could be argued we would all be safer if we had radio frequency identification (RFID) chips inserted in our bodies, so the authorities can tell where we are at all times. Or we could be issued with special ID cards, or even have chips inserted in our mobile phones, just so the authorities can keep a check on our whereabouts for the greater good.


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