Some 70 CCTV cameras in Glasgow have the capability to track people under a new surveillance system branded a threat to civil liberties.
The sophisticated £1.2m surveillance software called Suspect Search forms part of a £12.6m upgrade to the city’s public space CCTV system.
A Freedom of Information reply published today by The Ferret – in tandem with the Daily Record newspaper -reveals that 70 cameras in Glasgow can use the software when previously only 10 cameras had Suspect Search capability.
But critics fear the state-of-the-art software poses a risk to civil liberties and are demanding judicial oversight of surveillance under the new system.
Last November The Ferret revealed the capabilities of the new camera software and how individuals can be tracked as they move around.
We also disclosed that neither the Scottish Government, Police Scotland, nor Glasgow City Council, held any written legal guidance that sets out how the system can be used.
Suspect Search is surveillance software that can track people wherever they go in a city – even where the coverage of cameras does not overlap.
In trials, Suspect Search followed people successfully even in busy streets with hundreds of people walking past.
The system can also alert CCTV operators if crowds gather unexpectedly, or when people enter certain areas.
Suspect Search was tested successfully to spot individuals putting cones on the iconic Duke of Wellington statue in Glasgow city centre.
Glasgow City Council said in its FOI reply to a transparency campaigner: “Suspect Search has now been configured on 70 cameras with the PSCCTV network, however, as noted above, operational use of Suspect Search has not yet commenced.”
“CCTV images are stored for 14 days then deleted unless the relevant footage is identified by Police Scotland as incident footage or is the subject of a subject access request.”
“Community Safety Glasgow (CSG) employs 20 Public Space CCTV Operators. It is anticipated that Suspect Search will be available to these operators and 6 Police Liaison Offers once operational.”
The system became capable of operational use at the beginning of September 2015 but seven months later it has still not been used.
The council must first complete a Privacy Impact Assessment.
Critics say any capability that allows people to be tracked through the city should only be used with the authorisation of senior law enforcement staff under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act.
Scottish Lib Dems justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said: “These reports are hugely concerning. Introducing high-tech cameras which allow for facial recognition before proper legislation is in place to protect against abuses poses a real risk to our civil liberties.”
“The technology is light years ahead of the laws that are in place to ensure that the privacy of innocent people going about their businesses is secure.”
“CCTV can be a useful crime-fighting tool, but the potential for abuse is clear.”
“First we were told that this technology would be used on ten cameras in Glasgow, now it is 70. Meanwhile, we have no answers to the serious concerns that have been raised over what this scheme means for our privacy.”
“Liberal Democrats will change the law around the use of facial recognition technology to ensure that basic legal protections for our privacy are in place.”
I'm very concerned about the Suspect Search CCTV system because it's arguably entering the area of directive surveillance Richard Halley, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities
Richard Haley, of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, said: “I’m very concerned about the Suspect Search CCTV system because it’s arguably entering the area of directive surveillance which would require a greater degree of oversight than required for the current CCTV.”
“Glasgow City Council has not been facing up that problem and the delay in implementing the system suggests there are issues with privacy.”
“I am extremely concerned over any system being rolled out without proper oversight.”
Camera operators can start searches for people by uploading a photograph of the person they wish to find.
Alternatively they can even build an ‘avatar’ of their “target”, based on a description of their clothes and physical characteristics.
Minutes of management meetings obtained by The Ferret show that officials have struggled to implement the sophisticated surveillance technology, suggesting privacy concerns may not be the only reason for the delays.
In March 2015, a record of a meeting said that plans to test the surveillance software for six months were curtailed to just 6-8 weeks in a bid to get the project back on track. Officials blamed a “poor response from BT,” one of the main contractors in the wider CCTV upgrade project, for the delays.
The firm was responsible for installing the communications infrastructure the surveillance software relies upon.
A monitoring report produced the following May for the main funder of the project, Innovate UK, apparently confirmed that little progress had been made addressing these delays by May 2014.
A Glasgow City Council spokeswoman said: “There is no confirmed date as to when the suspect search software will be put into operation as it is still going through the normal legal and approval process.”
“Once approved, the system will only be operated by Police Scotland and Community Safety Glasgow (CSG) vetted staff and will aid operators in speeding up the process in looking for a missing child for example in the city.”
Photo credit: Michel | CC | https://flic.kr/p/qwkfjg