An accepted part of city living is that one’s image is captured numerous times during the day. Whether it is private surveillance cameras of small establishments or a centralized security network, for the most part, people are resigned to forfeit some privacy for the sake of security. The expectation of privacy is significantly lower. However, as surveillance technology becomes increasingly more sophisticated, citizens are not only watched for how they behave. They may be monitored for what they say.

The United Kingdom has been labeled the ‘surveillance society’. Technology has advanced to sound detection:

“CCTV cameras which use artificial intelligence software are being developed to “hear” sounds like windows smashing, researchers have revealed.”

link: CCTV cameras ‘taught to listen’

The next step is to monitor what is being said. Citizens have lowered their expectation of privacy when they are in a public venue. Image capture is multiplying. However, to have surveillance extended to personal conversations is another huge concession of civil liberties. And when the audio capacities of the technology is limited by clarity or range, software is being developed to interpret the conversation through lip reading algorithms.

The trend is for increased surveillance. Even in harsh economic times, it is a growth industry. As surveillance for the sake of security advances, one basic question remains to be proven from the empirical data. That basic question is ‘does the surveillance work?’.

Catherine Forsythe