Reports that chairman Lester Levy and his team at Auckland Transport have appointed themselves Auckland's Big Brother, with plans for a unified spy network of 8,000 cameras, open to the police and bureaucrats, both local and national, had me reaching for my paranoia pills.
Until now, the city's CCTV networks have been, what they call in the trade, "passive." In other words it requires someone sitting at a monitor to watch the live event, or to wind through hours of recorded footage. But AT's new Big Brother plan is scarily 21st century.
The existing under-funded and under-staffed, Dad's Army set-up made me uneasy. The proposed "Intelligent Global Security Operation Centre" (GSCO) solution, has the alarm bells ringing.
At present there's a disparate mix of around 6,000 cameras, linked to separate CCTV systems created over the years by the council, AT, NZTA and facilities such as the zoo, stadiums and museums.
The new set up will combine these cameras, along with assorted existing town centre schemes, plus another 2,000 or so cameras into one unified system. The police will gain full real-time access.
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For tech and security geeks it's no doubt seems like all their Christmases come at once. The online publicity from US providers Vidsys, says that in an "incident," operators "are bombarded with an avalanche of operational data from CCTV sensors, transactions,[and] social media, which far exceed human's capability to process in real-time."
But good old Big Brother Intelligent GSOC and his huge computer brain can single handedly save the day, triggering actions "based upon established protocols and policies."
The worry is, Vidsys's GSOC is being promoted as a transport management system, whereas, here in Auckland, the police seem to be setting up home just inside the backdoor. it's to become a tool for them as well. And as far as I can make out, we, as a community, have not been invited to discuss the protocols and policies mentioned above. Nor have our politicians. Or if they have, they've done it in secret.
8000 cameras watching city: Auckland Transport's new plan
AT technology solutions group manager Chris Creighton told Radio New Zealand the new cameras will have automated processing abilities, including facial recognition, but said that the facial recognition will be switched firmly off.
While AT might be happy to set aside the facial recognition tool, it is hard to believe the police and possibly the spy agencies, will be able to resist this new crime fighting tool,to say nothing of the other processing tricks that are part of the package such as centralised data storage that match information with social media and the like.
Indeed, in the brief executive summary documentary made public on the AT board's agenda, much is made of the ability "to undertake enhanced CCTV analytics" and "enhanced automated network monitoring." Along with its capability to "provide an enhanced security environment for the 36th Americas Cup and APEC21."
Not, one feels, without facial recognition.
That we're drifting into this mass surveillance quicksand without a debate about boundaries is depressing. If anyone should be insisting on strict controls on our "guardians," it's Mayor Phil Goff.
Five years ago he received a grovelling apology from the Security Intelligence Service, for in 2011, their leaking of "incomplete, inaccurate and misleading" - and politically embarrassing – information about Goff, who was then Labour Party leader, to notorious blogger, Cameron Slater.
Going to plan, Auckland will end up with one spy camera for every 207 citizens, which, I admit, is a somewhat less oppressive than the one in eight in the United States or one in seven in China.
But the plan to integrate Auckland's scattered networks into one does echo China's national surveillance system, which incorporates facial recognition. At the risk of giving Levy ideas, the Chinese system uses surveillance cameras to ticket jaywalkers and miscreant cyclists, incorporating this misbehaviour into a nationwide "social credit" system.
Every citizen gets a trustworthiness score, combining surveillance information with other government data. You lose points, for example, "frivolous spending" or lighting up in a smoke-free zone, and score perks like fast-tracked foreign travel for the goody goodies, and penalties, such as loss of job opportunities, for the naughty.
Do we want to head down this path?