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The Warsaw Voice » Society » January 30, 2008
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Big Brother Is Watching You
January 30, 2008   
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We live in an Orwellian world of constant surveillance. Universities, schools, even kindergartens have cameras installed. We are watched in the metro, on the bus and in the street. We are watched at work and at play.

Warsaw is under the eyes of 441 cameras. The metro has 120, the streets 23, and 37 radio cameras are operating somewhere around the city. Data from police HQ in Warsaw affirms their effectiveness as a crime deterrent. The crime rate has almost halved in areas under video surveillance. Camera images also help identify offenders.

Britain and Spain have Europe's most developed video surveillance networks. This is hardly surprising given their histories of terrorist attacks. London probably has the largest surveillance system of any city in the world. It was here that the world's first surveillance network was set up in the wake of a series of Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombings. Most of the city's CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) cameras have been installed in train stations, airports, government buildings and the subway. They are usually placed in visible locations so as to deter would-be offenders, although some are well hidden.

Like Britain, Spain developed its CCTV system in response to terrorist attacks, in this case from the Basque separatist movement ETA. The system still has a few flaws that need ironing out. But the technology is developing so rapidly that surveillance may well soon become the most important crime deterrent available. Video Content Analysis (VCA) is an intelligent system which can analyze video images and detect suspicious behavior. The technology, still in its infancy, is expensive and it will probably be several years before it finds its way into standard surveillance systems. VCA assumes there are specific behavior patterns that can be classified as potentially suspicious or dangerous. Examples include moving against the flow of traffic at airport security gates and constantly returning to a particular spot for no apparent reason. An intelligent CCTV system can detect such behavior and either activate an alarm or notify the camera operator.

Nine in 10 Warsaw university students support video surveillance in public places. "I haven't been afraid of going home after midnight since they installed cameras on night buses," says Dawid, a student at the Warsaw University of Technology. Cameras give people a sense of security-and privacy is a price they are willing to pay.

Joanna Matysiak
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