CCTV with audio snooping to detect "aggressive behaviour" hype

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Another Sunday Times story about some alleged technology which is being hyped to the surveillance state snoopers, and about which some critical questions need to be answered.

The Sunday Times November 26, 2006

Word on the street ... they're listening

POLICE and councils are considering monitoring conversations in the street using high-powered microphones attached to CCTV cameras, write Steven Swinford and Nicola Smith.

The microphones can detect conversations 100 yards away and record aggressive exchanges before they become violent.

The devices are used at 300 sites in Holland and police, councils and transport officials in London have shown an interest in installing them before the 2012 Olympics.

The interest in the equipment comes amid growing concern that Britain is becoming a "surveillance society". It was recently highlighted that there are more than 4.2m CCTV cameras, with the average person being filmed more than 300 times a day. The addition of microphones would take surveillance into uncharted territory.

These estimated figures date from 2003 - there could be many more than this installed today, but nobody knows for sure, because they are not licensed or regulated.

See "monitored on CCTV 300 times a day" etc. soundbites

The Association of Chief Police Officers has warned that a full public debate over the microphones' impact on privacy will be needed before they can be introduced.

The equipment can pick up aggressive tones on the basis of 12 factors, including decibel level, pitch and the speed at which words are spoken. Background noise is filtered out, enabling the camera to focus on specific conversations in public places.

That may be what the company trying to flog the system claims, but there is no evidence that this is any more accurate than a system which merely detects human voices.

If the aggressive behaviour continues, police can intervene before an incident escalates. Privacy laws in Holland limit the recording of sound to short bursts. Derek van der Vorst, director of Sound Intelligence, the company that created the technology, said: "It is technically capable of being live 24 hours a day and recording 24 hours a day. It really depends on the privacy laws in a particular country."

The same moral and ethical stance, as taken by arms dealers, and suppliers of torture equipment.

Last month Martin Nanninga of VCS Observation, the Dutch company marketing the technology, gave a presentation to officials from Transport for London, the Metropolitan police and the City of London police about the CCTV system. Nanninga is to return next year for further discussions.

"There was a lot of interest in our system, especially with security concerns about the Olympic Games in 2012. We told them about both our intelligent control room and the aggression detection system," Nanninga said.

All sorts of security snakeoil merchants and reputable companies will be trying to leech onto the fat London 2012 Olympics "security theatre" budgets. The security budget for the Athens Olympics in 2004, was over a billion pounds sterling..Nowhere near this sum was included in the bid budget for the London 2012 Olympic Games, only about £400 million for actual stadium event security. Given the higher terrorist target profile of London, who believes that even more British taxpayers' money will not be wasted ?

The British company Autonomy installed software for a gunfire and explosion sound detection and triangulation system for the 1200 CCTV cameras and microphones installed for the Athens Olympic Games in 2004 (see below for further comments about these sort of systems).

Their other security snooping software installed to help monitor Greek phone and email communications for keywords, in multiple languages, is a separate issue. The law enforcement interception software installed by telecomms equipment supplier Ericsson for the Athens Olympic Games, led to the ongoing Vodafone Greece scandal, whereby even the mobile phones belonging to the Greek Prime Minister etc. were intercepted, by unknown persons, somehow abusing the very security system that was meant to be a protection.

In Holland more than 300 of the cameras have been fitted in Groningen, Utrecht and Rotterdam. Locations include city centres, benefit offices, jails, and even T-Mobile shops. The sensitivity of the microphones is adjusted to suit the situation.

What possible need is there for a remote control room to be monitoring "benefit offices, jails, and even T-Mobile shops" ?

Are there really no staff in these locations, with access to panic buttons or mobile phones, who could raise the alarm and call the police if necessary ?

Police and local council officials are still assessing their impact on crime,

We are willing to bet, that there will be no statistically valid improvement in either crime prevention or in the public's fear of crime, as a result of these small scale trials.

There will be an increase in the number of people who feel oppressed by this further extension of the surveillance state.

although in an initial six-week trial in Groningen last year the cameras raised 70 genuine alarms, resulting in four arrests.

What a misleading statistic ! This technology is another form of biometrics, with extra technical difficulties due to the attempt to deploy it in the street, rather than under controlled conditions indoors.

How many false alarms were there, i.e. how many false positives ?

How many incidents or arrests were there in the test areas, which were not detected, i.e. how many false negatives were there ?

How many of the alleged 70 incidents were not responded to by the Police, due to other resource commitments ?

How many of those claimed 4 arrests would have happened anyway, because the Police had already been called by the public, or perhaps even alerted by the conventional CCTV system operating mode, i.e. purely visually ?

Harry Hoetjer, head of surveillance at Groningen police headquarters, recalled an incident where the camera had homed in on a gang of four men who were about to attack a passer-by. "We would not normally have detected it as there was no camera directly viewing it," he said.

So, were these the 4 people arrested above ? If so, on what evidence, if the conversation was not actually recorded ?

How many other groups of innocent people did the system home in on, who did not subsequently attack anyone ?

Last Friday a Sunday Times reporter visited the office of Sound Intelligence in Groningen

"Sound IntelligenceSound Intelligence was founded in 2000, based on research at the departments of Biophysics and Artificial Intelligence of Groningen State University (RuG), into the mechanisms underlying human hearing."

to test the system. The reporter stood in the control centre with a view of an empty room on one of a bank of monitors. Van der Vorst entered the room, out of sight of the camera, and began making aggressive noises.

The camera swivelled to film him and an alarm went off in the control room, designed to alert police to a possible incident.

That is hardly a scientific test of a system which is mostly deployed outdoors, is it ?

How could the technology cope with, for example, groups of football supporters, or political demonstrators going to or coming from a sporting event or political demonstration ?

How can it possibly accurately detect "aggressive sounds" uttered by non-European language speakers, e.g. Chinese ?

"The cameras work on the principle that in an aggressive situation the pitch goes up and the words are spoken faster," said van der Vorst. "The voice is not the normal flat tone, but vibrates. It is these subtle changes that our audio cameras can pick up on."

Unless, of, course you happen to be, say, Chinese, where the rising tone inflections and rapid speech, happen to be the normal way in which you speak.

We do not believe that there is any scientific evidence that you can reliably predict if a shouting match in public will, or will not result in physical violence, especially, if, as in this system, there is no attempt to even bother to try to pick up individual words and assign meaning to them.

It is difficult enough to use "voiceprint analysis" to try to match individuals, or to see if they are speaking differently from their own, previously machine learned "normal" speech patterns, for use in a "polygraph lie detector".

We cannot understand how unknown people, are meant to be classified as "aggressive and likely to be about to attack someone", at a distance, in the outdoors.

Public prosecution services can use them in court as evidence. The Dutch privacy board has already given its approval to the system.

That is of little comfort. The Netherlands is ranks alongside Sweden, just behind the United Kingdom as one of the most surveilled countries in the European Union according to Privacy International.

According to a spokesman for Richard Thomas, Britain's information commissioner, sound recorded by the cameras would be treated under British law in the same way as CCTV footage. Under the commissioner's code of practice, audio can be recorded for the detection, prevention of crime and apprehension and prosecution of offenders. It cannot be used for recording private conversations.

The Information Commissioner's code of practice is not legally binding

BP Petrol stations have been snooping on their customers and staff via audio recordings, as well CCTV and more recently Automatic Number Plate Recognition, for several years now.

Graeme Gerrard, chairman of the chief police officers' video and CCTV working group, said: "In the UK this is a new step. Clearly there is somebody or something monitoring people speaking in the street, and before we were to engage in that technology there would be a number of legal obstacles.

"We would need to have a debate as to whether or not this is something the public think would be a reasonable use of the technology. The other issue is around the capacity of the police service to deal with this."

Will ACPO and the Home Office care to debate the issues regarding existing and developing CCTV survellance technologies with us ?

The technically easy bit of this system is the sound triangulation part of it. Even that is prone to major errors in an urban environment, given the complexities of echoes off buildings etc. and the need to analyse the sounds in near real time, for these analyses to be of any use at all.

Unlike the dubious "aggression sound analysis" proposed by this Durtch system, based on research by the University of Groningen, there have been several firearms or gunfire detection systems on the market for over 10 years now.

These have the technically simpler task of filtering and analaysing characteristic loud gunshot sounds, rather than the subtleties of human voices under stress, and trying to triangulate their points of origin, and to despatch a police or military patrol to investigate.

See this National Institute of Justice Research paper published in 1999

"Random Gunfire Problems and Gunshot Detection Systems." by Lorraine Green Mazerolle, Cory Watkins, Dennis Rogan, and James Frank

which actually analyses a couple of these systems which were installed by commercial companies in Redwood City, California and in Dallas, Texas, as far back as 1996.

The British Army had a similar non-commercial system set up in Belfast in Northern Ireland, even earlier than that.

Detecting the gunfire and triangulating on its source was not a problem, even with the available technology 10 years ago. It is the resultant police (or military) and community responses, which are the main issues, and they are unlikely to have improved since then.

If the British authorities are stupid enough to waste money on this Dutch or any other "microphones in the streets" systems, then they will have to prove to us, that they will somehow not be vulnerable to spoofing attacks.

Gunshot detection systems can discriminate between the sound of a blank round and a live one, being fired.

There does not seem to be any way for the remote location "aggressive voice analysis" scheme to detect genuine human voices, and pre-recorded ones.

Why will terrorists, or bank robbers, or anarchist demonstrators, not use cheap, high fidelity audio recordings to lure away police patrols from their real targets ?

If such patrols do not bother to investigate apparent "audio incidents", then what is the point of wasting our money on the scheme ?

We hope that this inherently flawed technology is not even trialled in the UK, let alone deployed for either the London 2012 Olympic Games, or elsewhere.

If it is deployed, then we predict that the nightmare of a National Voice Print Database will be mooted by the control freaks, once a large number of microphone equipped CCTV spy cameras are linked together.


Please tell me I am not dreaming (although you might find that you have to slap yourself across the face a couple of times when you read this story):

@ Jake - thanks for spotting the latest David Blunkett self publicity and delusion.

Are we seriously meant to believe that Blunkett is now some sort of protector of our freedoms and liberties, rather than one of the worst oppressors in recent years ?

George Orwell defined this sort of NuLabour mindset as doublethink:

the act of holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously, fervently believing both, and being unaware of their incompatibility.

Note that the system in the Netherlands claims not to record actual conversations, although it is obviously trivially easy to do make it do this.

Unbelievable! But it would be a natural progression for the thought police. If they want to watch us all the time why not listen as well.
I also think we can also add doubledo to activities of this government. Increase snooping and Surveillance on your population under the guise of preventing loss of innocent life, whilst wiping a truck load of it out elsewhere in the world.

They don't need an extra voice database or even some new legislation for it - Schedule 1 section 2d of the ID Cards Act is a catch all for any biometric information the government want.

There was another Times story this week about " target[ing] suspects before they can carry out a serious offence".

I just linked to it at

(The 'Civil liberty vs. the database state' event is tomorrow Wednesday - )

br -d

> If it is deployed, then we predict that the nightmare of a National Voice Print Database will be mooted by the control freaks

I just discovered that IDENT1 is the chosen database to hold voice. The PITO Indentification roadmap mentions:

"Once digital mugshots are integrated into IDENT1 (via FIND) the time will be right to consider a multi-modal trial. Such a trial is likely to be extensive, and it would be prudent to include other modes of identification that are being considered for inclusion into IDENT1 at this time (e.g. voice/iris/3D facial etc)."

Voice is now most entirely in the "Clear Police applications" and "mature" quadrant - according to PITO.

I put a link to this PITO report (on the pic) and other HO info at

br -d

Tony "lucky to still be a Home Office Minister" McNulty has refused to rule out the use of this audio snooping technology hype in a Parliamentary Written Answer to Labour MP and blogger Tom Watson:

CCTV Technology

Mr. Watson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what discussions he has had with (a) the police and (b) the surveillance industry on the introduction of listening technology with CCTV systems; and if he will make a statement. [106419]

Mr. McNulty [holding answer 5 December 2006]: The Home Office, in conjunction with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has been undertaking a review of CCTV this year, and has been assessing

7 Dec 2006 : Column 640W

how it may be used more effectively in reducing and detecting crime. The review’s findings are expected to be known within the next few weeks and the strategy will reflect discussions with the police and other stakeholders,

Note the weasel words "other stakeholders" i.e. there is not going to be a proper public consultation.

and will consider the current and future technologies that may be used in conjunction with CCTV.

Any technology used with CCTV cameras will have to comply with current legislation before it could be used operationally. This includes a requirement to observe the Information Commissioner’s Code of Practice on the use of CCTV.

N.B. the "Information Commissioner’s Code of Practice on the use of CCTV" is neither mandatory nor legally binding !

the aggresive behavour was cool. i saw it all and i laughed hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahha

@ "jimmy" - derision is justified for anyone who proposes the deployment of insecure, unreliable easily spoofed public mass surveillance and control technologies like this one, especially at public expense.

An open space audio based aggressive behaviour stereotyping system is "stupid" not "cool".

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Blogoir - Charles Crawford - former UK Ambassodor to Poland etc.

No CCTV - The Campaign against CCTV

Barcode Nation - keeping two eyes on the database state.

Lords of the Blog - group blog by half a dozen or so Peers sitting in the House of Lords.

notes from the ubiquitous surveillance society - blog by Dr. David Murakami Wood, editor of the online academic journal Surveillance and Society

Justin Wylie's political blog

Panopticon blog - by Timothy Pitt-Payne and Anya Proops. Timothy Pitt-Payne is probably the leading legal expert on the UK's Freedom of Information Act law, often appearing on behlaf of the Information Commissioner's Office at the Information Tribunal.

Armed and Dangerous - Sex, software, politics, and firearms. Life’s simple pleasures… - by Open Source Software advocate Eric S. Raymond.

Georgetown Security Law Brief - group blog by the Georgetown Law Center on National Security and the Law , at Georgtown University, Washington D.C, USA.

Big Brother Watch - well connected with the mainstream media, this is a campaign blog by the TaxPayersAlliance, which thankfully does not seem to have spawned Yet Another Campaign Organisation as many Civil Liberties groups had feared.

Spy on Moseley - "Sparkbrook, Springfield, Washwood Heath and Bordesley Green. An MI5 Intelligence-gathering operation to spy on Muslim communities in Birmingham is taking liberties in every sense" - about 150 ANPR CCTV cameras funded by Home Office via the secretive Terrorism and Allied Matters (TAM) section of ACPO.

FitWatch blog - keeps an eye on the activities of some of the controversial Police Forward Intelligence Teams, who supposedly only target "known troublemakers" for photo and video surveillance, at otherwise legal, peaceful protests and demonstrations.

Other Links

Spam Huntress - The Norwegian Spam Huntress - Ann Elisabeth

Fuel Crisis Blog - Petrol over £1 per litre ! Protest !
Mayor of London Blog
London Olympics 2012 - NO !!!!

Cool Britannia


Free Gary McKinnon - UK citizen facing extradition to the USA for "hacking" over 90 US Military computer systems.

Parliament Protest - information and discussion on peaceful resistance to the arbitrary curtailment of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, in the excessive Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 Designated Area around Parliament Square in London.

Brian Burnell's British / US nuclear weapons history at

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UK Legislation

The United Kingdom suffers from tens of thousands of pages of complicated criminal laws, and thousands of new, often unenforceable criminal offences, which have been created as a "Pretend to be Seen to Be Doing Something" response to tabloid media hype and hysteria, and political social engineering dogmas. These overbroad, catch-all laws, which remove the scope for any judicial appeals process, have been rubber stamped, often without being read, let alone properly understood, by Members of Parliament.

The text of many of these Acts of Parliament are now online, but it is still too difficult for most people, including the police and criminal justice system, to work out the cumulative effect of all the amendments, even for the most serious offences involving national security or terrorism or serious crime.

Many MPs do not seem to bother to even to actually read the details of the legislation which they vote to inflict on us.

UK Legislation Links

UK Statute Law Database - is the official revised edition of the primary legislation of the United Kingdom made available online, but it is not yet up to date.

UK Commissioners

UK Commissioners some of whom are meant to protect your privacy and investigate abuses by the bureaucrats.

UK Intelligence Agencies

Intelligence and Security Committee - the supposedly independent Parliamentary watchdog which issues an annual, heavily censored Report every year or so. Currently chaired by the Conservative Sir Malcolm Rifkind. Why should either the intelligence agencies or the public trust this committee, when the untrustworthy ex-Labour Minister Hazel Blears is a member ?

Anti-terrorism hotline - links removed in protest at the Climate of Fear propaganda posters

MI5 Security Service
MI5 Security Service - links to encrypted reporting form removed in protest at the Climate of Fear propaganda posters

syf_logo_120.gif Secure Your Ferliliser logo
Secure Your Fertiliser - advice on ammonium nitrate and urea fertiliser security

cpni_logo_150.gif Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure
Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure - "CPNI provides expert advice to the critical national infrastructure on physical, personnel and information security, to protect against terrorism and other threats."

SIS MI6 careers_logo_sis.gif
Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) recruitment.

Government Communications Headquarters GCHQ

National Crime Agency - the replacement for the Serious Organised Crime Agency

Defence Advisory (DA) Notice system - voluntary self censorship by the established UK press and broadcast media regarding defence and intelligence topics via the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee.

Foreign Spies / Intelliegence Agencies in the UK

It is not just the UK government which tries to snoop on British companies, organisations and individuals, the rest of the world is constantly trying to do the same, regardless of the mixed efforts of our own UK Intelligence Agencies who are paid to supposedly protect us from them.

For no good reason, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office only keeps the current version of the London Diplomatic List of accredited Diplomats (including some Foreign Intelligence Agency operatives) online.

Presumably every mainstream media organisation, intelligence agency, serious organised crime or terrorist gang keeps historical copies, so here are some older versions of the London Diplomatic List, for the benefit of web search engine queries, for those people who do not want their visits to appear in the FCO web server logfiles or those whose censored internet feeds block access to UK Government websites.

Campaign Button Links

Watching Them, Watching Us - UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign

NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card
NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card and National Identity Register centralised database.

Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.
Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.

FreeFarid_150.jpg - Kafkaesque extradition of Farid Hilali under the European Arrest Warrant to Spain

Peaceful resistance to the curtailment of our rights to Free Assembly and Free Speech in the SOCPA Designated Area around Parliament Square and beyond
Parliament Protest blog - resistance to the Designated Area restricting peaceful demonstrations or lobbying in the vicinity of Parliament.

Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans
Data Retention is No Solution - Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans.

Save Parliament: Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)
Save Parliament - Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)

Open Rights Group

The Big Opt Out Campaign - opt out of having your NHS Care Record medical records and personal details stored insecurely on a massive national centralised database.

Tor - the onion routing network
Tor - the onion routing network - "Tor aims to defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal anonymity and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security. Communications are bounced around a distributed network of servers called onion routers, protecting you from websites that build profiles of your interests, local eavesdroppers that read your data or learn what sites you visit, and even the onion routers themselves."

Tor - the onion routing network
Anonymous Blogging with Wordpress and Tor - useful Guide published by Global Voices Advocacy with step by step software configuration screenshots (updated March 10th 2009).

Amnesty International's campaign

BlogSafer - wiki with multilingual guides to anonymous blogging

NGO in a box - Security Edition privacy and security software tools

Home Office Watch blog, "a single repository of all the shambolic errors and mistakes made by the British Home Office compiled from Parliamentary Questions, news reports, and tip-offs by the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs team."

Reporters Without Borders - Reporters Sans Frontières - campaign for journalists 'and bloggers' freedom in repressive countries and war zones.

Committee to Protect Bloggers - "devoted to the protection of bloggers worldwide with a focus on highlighting the plight of bloggers threatened and imprisoned by their government."

Icelanders are NOT terrorists ! - despite Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling's use of anti-terrorism legislation to seize the assets of Icelandic banks.

No CCTV - The Campaign Against CCTV


I'm a Photographer Not a Terrorist !


Power 2010 cross party, political reform campaign


Cracking the Black Box - "aims to expose technology that is being used in inappropriate ways. We hope to bring together the insights of experts and whistleblowers to shine a light into the dark recesses of systems that are responsible for causing many of the privacy problems faced by millions of people."


Open Rights Group - Petition against the renewal of the Interception Modernisation Programme

wblogocrop_150.jpg - Fighting for justice for whistleblowers