June 15, 2013

The International Working Group on Video Surveillance (IWGVS)

Yesterday (8th June), the International Working Group on Video Surveillance (IWGVS) [1] issued a statement condemning Facewatch, the electronic wanted poster system used by UK businesses and police. Facewatch has also been launched in Australia and the United States. The statement was issued to coincide with 1984 Action Day [2] commemorating the publication of George Orwell's novel '1984', which was first published 8th June 1949.

Facewatch and the associated mobile phone App 'Facewatch id' is a CCTV image sharing system. Facewatch calls on members of the public to identify people in CCTV images relating to low level crimes. Images are also shared within corporate and local "groups" to alert members of the group of "potential criminal activity". Facewatch is essentially a wanted poster social network, that trivialises crime fighting and asks the user to spend no more time identifying a person accused of a crime than "liking" a news story about their favourite celebrity.

In the past wanted posters were an extraordinary measure, used to highlight the most dangerous, prolific or otherwise notorious known criminals. Such practices date back to the wild west, where lynch mobs often hunted down such fugitives. More recently in the United States the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Ten Most Wanted List and associated posters have been used to draw attention to the most sought after fugitives since 1950. Facewatch reverses this practice and uses wanted poster for suspects of low level crime.