Jim Jepps, editor of the Big Smoke blog, had matters other than snow on his mind on Saturday night. He’d just discovered that a camera installed in the communal garden of his block at Walker House, Camden, had a rather unpleasant addition.
If you can’t play the video, as Jepps walks through the garden an automated voice kicks in saying
Stop. This is a restricted area and your photograph is being taken. It will be sent for processing if you do not leave the area now.
Understandably Jepps, and large swathes of the internet, are outraged at such a seemingly authoritarian move by Camden Council, and one that residents weren’t consulted about. Jepps has since discovered the camera is light sensitive so in winter, it can be ordering residents out of their garden for most of the day.
Camden Council say the horrible American voice was never a planned initiative: it’s a function of a flash camera (Jepps refers to said camera in his original post) that was accidentally switched on, possibly during a battery change a few weeks ago. The flash camera was installed as a temporary measure after complaints from some residents about antisocial behaviour (something that Jepps counters by pointing at police crime maps, showing not one recorded incident for Walker House. We don’t know; we’re not about to get involved in neighbourhood rows and are backing slowly away from that one).
But this made us wonder: is the flash camera sending photos off to be ‘processed’ anyway, with or without the shoutiness? If so, where are these photos going? Who has access to them? How long are they stored? Wouldn’t that be the same invasion of residents’ rights to use / walk through their garden at night without risk of having their photo snapped and stored as a potential criminal, but without a warning? We’ve asked Camden Council and will update this post with their reply.
Edit: Camden Council say images are stored on a memory card inside the camera. Community Safety Officers are “usually” the ones to download them and they can be shared with police “ for the purpose of addressing crime and disorder”.