Saturday, September 30, 2006

User 64

Everyone is talking about this New Statesman story in which so-and-so visits Westminster Council's CCTV surveillance control centre, which rather wonderfully turns out to be situated in the bowels of the dire Trocadero on Wardour Street. Apparently we have 20 per cent of world CCTV capability in Britain. But it was this response at Spyblog that inspired me. In comments, one Gareth Preston writes that:
They say that the CCTV systems in the UK are set up to tackle crime. So why do so many Male CCTV operators spend their "working hours" zooming in on female members of the public?

Hardly surprising, after all. But this reminded me of an incident in the 1990s, in the first fast upcurl of the surveillance boom, when a major British airport installed a spanking new CCTV network. As is common in many IT systems, the sysadmin had the ability to assign differential privileges to user accounts, so-say-WH Smith on the concourse could access just the camera pointing at the shiny-lettering thrillers, but a "superuser" like, say, the police or ATC could not only watch the feed of any camera on the airport, and not only control the Pan-Tilt-Zoom ones, but also take over control of any PTZ cam from whoever else was using it.

A few weeks in, and someone noticed that an extra, unauthorised user account existed on the system, User No.64. Unsurprisingly, whoever had created it had provisioned it with superuser status. Consternation. Meetings. Terrorists? (This was around about the time the IRA blew up Manchester city centre, doing millions of pounds' worth of improvements.) It was decided not to blow the gaff, but to monitor User 64's activity closely.

It was then discovered that the User spent his time zooming in on women's backsides, and saving the images on tape. In fact he/she/it - well, it was only realistically going to be a he - appeared to be collecting them. Disgrace followed.

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