Lamp posts have been fitted with listening devices and cameras in order to monitor conversations in public

Lamp posts have been fitted with listening devices and cameras in order to monitor conversations in public

The government has announced that all street conversations in the UK will now be monitored with listening devices inserted into lamp posts.

Think I’m joking? Councils across several major cities in England have announced the insertion of new “intelligent” listening devices  which will allegedly be used to counteract terrorism and crime.

The Sigard system has been tested in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Coventry. The microphones, connected to CCTV cameras and lampposts, can recognise aggressive “trigger” words and sounds, then automatically direct cameras to zoom in on the speakers.

The news first came to light in 2009, when it was picked up by the media and it was claimed that the system would be scrapped after six months. However that appears not be the case.

Manufacturers of these spy devices have however, denied the system is used to record conversations.

It analyses sound patterns to pick out angry or distressed voices. The announcement of these devices comes just days after approximately 200 cameras with number plate recognition software in Birmingham was scrapped after  it emerged that they were being targeted at the city’s Asian districts.

But this new system, Sigard, has come under fire from privacy campaigners. Corinna Ferguson, a lawyer for human rights group Liberty, said: “Britain has been far too complacent about the growth of CCTV without any proper public debate or legal safeguards. With cameras linked to microphones and number-plate databases, everyone can be treated as a suspect.

“The Birmingham fiasco demonstrates the destructive power of snooping on whole communities who could otherwise be pulling together to fight crime and terrorism.”

The creators of the system revealed that it has not only been used on the streets, but also on public transport included buses and trains, retail stores, event halls, nightclubs, bus stations, tunnels and prisons.

Once certain keywords are picked up, or if the tone of voice is deemed to be ‘aggressive’, ‘distressed’, or ‘angry’, alerts will then be sent to the police to monitor or attend the situation.

The microphones can listen in on conversations up to 100 yards away. The cameras then record both sound and images. The system filters out background noise and focuses on suspect sounds.

The system is already widely used in Holland, where 12 cities have already adopted it. In Coventry, the CV One partnership, funded by the city council, tested Sigard for six months by installing seven in the city’s nightclub district.

No-one from the organisation would comment on the trial’s success.

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