LONDON - NOVEMBER 02:  A CCTV camera records the street scene in Camden on Novemebr 2, 2006 in London, England. Richard Thomas, the British government's information commissioner has warned that the Britain is in danger of turning into a Big Brother society. The Surveillance Studies Network report has revealed that 20 percent of the world's spy cameras are in Britain.  Up to 4.2 million CCTV cameras are in operation, about one for every 14 people. (Photo by Miles Willis/Getty Images)

Big Brother has its eyes and ears on Europe – with security cameras that eavesdrop on conversations to sense how private citizens feel and predict violent behavior before it happens.

In what may appear to be a chapter straight out of George Orwell’s “1984,” a surveillance system currently used in several Dutch cities records public conversations as far as 100 yards away and monitors movements to detect signs of antisocial behavior and fighting.

“We connect microphones that listen for aggressive sound,” Derel van der Vorst of Sound Intelligence, the company that produces the system, told BBC News. “Once they have a match with the aggressive pattern, the camera will automatically move to the aggressive sound, and there will be a pop-up on the screen that says there’s aggression at this location.”

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Known as the Sigard detection system, powerful microphones attached to security cameras register sound characteristics of human aggression, anger or fear and send out an alert. The alert triggers the camera to focus on likely aggressors and alerts an operator in a control room. The operator may then dispatch police to the scene to stop the argument before violence ensues.

The following video posted on YouTube demonstrates how the Sigard detection system works:

 

 

A New Yorker report noted that the system has been installed in the English city of Coventry, and is being tested in London and Manchester.

This week, London’s Telegraph reported the Coventry City Council has installed seven devices in the nightlife area on the main street.

Sound Intelligence contends that its system doesn’t listen to content of conversations, just how the words are being said. But privacy advocates warn the surveillance systems may eventually record statements and not just the tone.

Dylan Sharpe of Big Brother Watch told the Telegraph, “There can be no justification for giving councils or the police the capability to listen in on private conversations. There is enormous potential for abuse, or a misheard word, causing unnecessary harm with this sort of intrusive and overbearing surveillance.”

Likewise, Patrick Harvie of the Scottish Green Party told the Herald Scotland, ” It must not become a default expectation that wherever we are in the public realm, we are being recorded. That is a situation we are close to.”

There are already an estimated 4.8 million closed-circuit TV cameras in Britain – or 13 per person – more per head than any other country in the world, the Herald Scotland noted.

According to a 2007 ABC “Nightline” broadcast, “The system developers have even been contacted by potential buyers in Washington, D.C., and New York – strong indications that Big Brother’s eyes and ears may be coming to a town near you.”


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