April Fool A joint project by the Metropolitan Police and London's Westminster Council to put CCTV onto the Internet has received substantial financial backing from Google, The Register has learned. On completion of the first phase, practically every square inch of Central London - including narrow alleyways, council debating chambers and police interview rooms - will be accessible from anywhere in the world.
"Westminster already operates one of the most sophisticated local council CCTV systems in the world," said a council spokesman, "but it's only available in Central London, and because they don't have access to it, residents don't derive the full benefit. Similarly the Met operates a whole range of video systems, but they're not joined up, and citizens only get to see a fraction of the output every now and again on Crimestoppers."
Making as much of this generally available as possible, security considerations permitting, is the quid pro quo for Google's backing. Westminster will be able to accelerate the deployment of its cameras and expand its state of the art control centre beneath Piccadilly Circus, while Google will be able to add real-time footage of the streets, and more, to its London Street View images.
"The UK's reaction to Street View was a revelation to us," said the spokesman. "Our camera network is a positive force for public safety, but historically people have been suspicious of what they see as intrusive, all-encompassing surveillance. But Google's reception was largely positive, nothing like that. We asked ourselves why, and finally figured out that we were presenting it wrong.
"Basically, it shouldn't be about surveillance at all, it should be about sharing. That's when we got the call from Google - it was almost as if they'd been listening to our meetings."
Met video ops chief DS Visconti is more guarded about the police contribution to the system, saying only that some video from police vehicles will initially be available, along with footage from the beats of London's Community Support Officers, who are to be equipped with helmet cameras as part of a one year pilot study. These systems have already been used by other UK forces, and while the helmets are not currently web-enabled, Visconti says it might be feasible for second generation units to be used in conjunction with Westminster's municipal wi-fi network.
"We're particularly interested in seeing the insides of some of the estates and alleyways the Streetview cameras didn't penetrate," he says. "With cameras mounted on the CSOs we're now able to make sure they actually go there. We will of course have tactical support teams ready to roll whenever that happens, though."
Visconti refused to speculate on further developments. Register sources, however, say that the Met is actively working to add private CCTV systems that it already accesses to the network, and intends to add other "sharing assets" (as Visconti describes them) progressively. It is also liaising with ACPO, the Association of Chief Police Officers, to take the system nationwide, adding motorway cameras and other local council systems.
And, once what is being called "London 2.0" is fully live, it is thought Channel 4 has an option on producing the world's largest reality TV series, with the population of one of the planet's greatest cities as the cast. "The working title is I'm a Londoner, Get Me Out of Here, but it's still early days," said a source. ®