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UK to lnstall Wireless Mics on London Streets 472

Posted by timothy
from the no-sir-that's-not-at-all-disturbing-no-sir dept.
johnthorensen writes "Looks like parts of London may be seeing wireless microphones on the street sometime soon. At this point, they're looking to use them to monitor noise ordinance violations - if you call about a repeated disturbance, they'll mount one by your place to monitor noise levels for the next several days. The article also notes that they intend to locate them more permanently outside bars and nightclubs. The microphones apparently communicate via wireless Internet connection, although no real details are given as to the nature of said connection. Are London residents getting the boiled frog treatment?"
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UK to lnstall Wireless Mics on London Streets

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    "Boiled frog treatment"? Huh? Elaborate please, O limey one.
    • As a Limey myself I have to admit I hadn't the faintest idea what that referred to, Google is similarly unhelpful on this topic.
      • by dan dan the dna man (461768) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @05:53AM (#12466840) Homepage Journal
        Ah.. enlightenment :

        They say that if you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will leap out right away to escape the danger.
        But, if you put a frog in a kettle that is filled with water that is cool and pleasant, and then you gradually heat the kettle until it starts boiling, the frog will not become aware of the threat until it is too late.
        The frog's survival instincts are geared towards detecting sudden changes.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 08, 2005 @06:04AM (#12466857)
          This isn't exclusive to frogs, it's a good way to cook humans too, just put them in a nice warm jacuzzi, then slowly turn up the heat until they pass out, boil for 45 minutes, salt to taste.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 08, 2005 @06:11AM (#12466883)
          Here [snopes.com] is what Snopes has to say about this, take it for you will.
        • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @11:58AM (#12468415)
          It's called "incrementalism". That principle, applied to people, has been responsible for some of the worst abuses in human history. People will react to a "crisis" (i.e., a "sudden change") and demand that "something be done" but will tend to gloss over lesser issues, particularly if they are properly sugar-coated. In fact, a well-handled "crisis" can be used to either a. justify another incremental step (i.e. the Patriot Act) or b. distract the population from what is really going on so that a much larger step can be taken (i.e. the Patriot Act.)

          A totalitarian state has no particular use for incrementalism because the people do as they're told or they get shot. Sometimes, even if they do what they're told they get shot. However, subverting a government such as the United States used to have requires a bit more subtlety. Little things slip under the radar, but over time they result in a significant loss of civil liberties, and an even more significant loss of control over the government in question. In fact, if you move slowly enough, you can create a legal climate more reflective of a police state than a republic, and many of those frogs, uh, citizens will cheer you on.
      • by Yonatanz (798506) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @08:15AM (#12467198) Homepage
        When Google fails, Wikipedia Comes to the rescue! [wikipedia.org]
    • by betelgeuse-4 (745816) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @05:59AM (#12466850) Homepage Journal

      I think they're refering to the saying that if you put a frog in a pot of boiling water it'll leap out, but if you put it in cold water then gradually heat it won't try to escape and you'll boil it. It's the standard /. analogy when anything that could conceivably lead to an Orwellian society appears in the news.

      The process is actually more likely to work on a human than a frog, because the human body would do various things to try to cool down once things got a bit hot, whereas the frog could only regulate its temperature by getting out.

  • Deus Ex anyone? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lxt (724570) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @05:49AM (#12466823) Journal
    Sounds familiar to the concept in Deus Ex - the use of microphones by police forces to pick up (gun) noise...albeit for slightly different purposes (noise management).
  • Tampering? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SteelV (839704) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @05:49AM (#12466824)
    How/where will these be located to avoid tampering?
    • The UK authorities seem to manage placing speed cameras where they face minimal damage or tampering (and maximum fine production), Im sure they can provide suitable containers and locations for these things.
      • by lxt (724570) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @06:27AM (#12466931) Journal
        Don't know about you, but where I live every single speed camera has been subject to repeat arson by people throwing burning tires over them. So, the speed camera authority responded by creating speed cameras which couldn't have said burning rubber thrown on to them.

        However, they severly underestimated the talent and intelligence of drunken men - I swear one night I saw a group of people standing on their shoulders, rotating a speed camera around 90 degrees. Nobody in the police actually realised it had been rotated for a few months...
        • by wfberg (24378) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @08:45AM (#12467275)
          I swear one night I saw a group of people standing on their shoulders, rotating a speed camera around 90 degrees. Nobody in the police actually realised it had been rotated for a few months...

          I presume they were tipped off by the Royal AirForce's complaints about their jets being ticketed for speeding.
    • by Steve Cox (207680) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @06:33AM (#12466948)
      Hopefully in the same sort of places as these speed cameras [blueyonder.co.uk] :)

      Steve...
      • Re:Tampering? (Score:2, Interesting)

        Well, I'm not quite sure what to make of it. I hate annoying low speed limits, but beyond just wanting to be able to drive faster, perhaps some people on that side of the pond are getting fed up with government surveillence of their daily lives.
  • 1984 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by maelstrom (638) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @05:50AM (#12466826) Homepage Journal
    I don't think its coincidence that George Orwell was British.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 08, 2005 @07:58AM (#12467157)
      I live in the UK, and it's no joke.

      The police here don't actually do hard stuff like going after burglars and muggers, it's too much work and it's not sexy and it may be dangerous to them.

      Instead, they spend their time hanging out on motorways fining speeders despite modern cars running like on rails at our speed limit.

      And of course, CCTV cameras are going up everywhere so that they can do even more of a bugger all. And now microphones.

      The whole system of "law enforcement" here sucks, because it does nothing to stop hard crime. The police end up monitoring the ordinary fairly civil person instead, while the real criminal is totally unhindered.

      1984 is definitely relevant.
      • by EnderWigginsXenocide (852478) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @03:44PM (#12470058) Homepage
        The crew of top-gear demoed the new UK roadside cameras. In one car they placed a stereo-typical grand-ma. She went 5 over the limit and she was cited. The lead member of the cast did the same, and was cited via post. One other member of the production team drove the speed limit with an AK-47 on the dash and a RPG-7 in the bed of his truck (both TV props, but they look quite real.) The guy with the AK-47 on the dash was never noticed by or contacted by law enforcement regarding his posession of what are illegal weapons in the UK.
  • Good idea! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by poopdeville (841677) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @05:51AM (#12466830)
    This is actually a really good idea. I've had the neighbors call the cops on me for noise violations several times. Nevermind the facts that I had a noise meter monitoring my speakers from a meter away the whole time and I not once broke the law. A little bit of objectivity could keep people from being screwed by prudish neighbors. As long as these microphones are technologically unsuitable to record conversations, this is a great thing.
    • Re:Good idea! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Well, part of it is a good idea, the part you mention. However, what is problematic imho is this part:

      "The article also notes that they intend to locate them more permanently outside bars and nightclubs. The microphones apparently communicate via wireless Internet connection, although no real details are given as to the nature of said connection."

      While this may also be justified if you want to meassure noise levels (and if there is a concrete issue), having to worry about things you talk about on the stre
      • While this may also be justified if you want to meassure noise levels (and if there is a concrete issue), having to worry about things you talk about on the street being recorded by the authorities certainly isn't something we should take lightly.

        I could be mistaken, but I believe they got John Gotti by wiring up all of the parking meters on the streets he walked with bugs.
      • Re:Good idea! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by DaEMoN128 (694605) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @07:14AM (#12467054)
        While I agree that the placing of the mics isn't something to be taken lightly..... I personally wouldn't have an issue with it if it was the same type of mics they use in spl, or db drag competitions. Those are only good for measuring sound levels.
    • Re:Good idea! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by aug24 (38229) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @12:53PM (#12468873) Homepage
      Has it occurred to you that you can be legal and still an inconsiderate dick?

      Justin.
      • Re:Good idea! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Dr. Evil (3501) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @01:44PM (#12469238)

        Yeah, I love his line:

        ...from being screwed by prudish neighbors.

        He should be embarassed and ashamed. Not all neighbours are reasonable, but FFS, he's puting his stereo over the well being of his neighbour. What the hell is the matter with this righteous prick?

        It's no wonder people move into gated communities.

  • by stevewrd (870518) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @05:54AM (#12466842) Homepage
    Westminster council is implementing a wireless network to cover the area, see http://www.etmag.com/publication/magazine/2004-10/ 62.htm [etmag.com]. Noise pollution in cities is considered a major problem in the UK and measures such as this to prevent a minority making life unpleasant for a majority should be welcomed. If you want loud noise, just wear a pair of headphones...
  • by Hortensia Patel (101296) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @05:58AM (#12466846)
    ... and to be honest I can't get too worked up about this.

    Public streets are just that: public. You don't get to veto who's watching and/or listening to you. If you want to discuss insurrection or your new water-fuelled-engine invention, go somewhere private.

    Besides, excessive noise is an infringement of privacy too, in my opinion.
    • in public space you do assume some level of public time, in that when a moment comes it passes un recorded. The time may be recorded by individuals in whatever medium, but the use of the information gathered about that moment isn't going to be databased under your name and accessible to high level officials and beauracratic institutions. Lists of just names in the hands of political entities is a dangerous thing; politics are volatile and information once benign can come back and do powerful things at later
      • If they aren't sampling at a high enough rate to capture inteligible language,

        Initially. Then a year or so later, change a parameter.

      • If they aren't sampling at a high enough rate to capture inteligible language, than the fear that these devices will be used in a malicious way is somewhat removed.

        Good point; recording statistical data rather than actual samples ought to address the alleged intent perfectly well.

        I did wonder while typing my original post whether the framerate on street CCTV was sufficient to allow lip-reading, in which case the privacy arguments become rather moot.
    • by DancesWithBlowTorch (809750) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @06:22AM (#12466922)
      and I have to disagree.

      There's a difference between between "public" as in "you can't complain if someone stands next to you in the tube and overhears all of your conversation" and "public" as in "you never know who's watching and listening". London is already tightly packed with CCTV (although I have to object to the "CC". I fail to see what's so closed circuit about wireless cameras that present their pictures on the net, like this one [bbc.co.uk], very close to where I live). Nevertheless, whenever the police publishes pictures of an "unidentified" mugger, you see that it is actually impossible to identify an unknown person on the pictures. What is possible, however, is to follow certain persons around town as they do their daily work.

      To cut it short: London is already quite Orwellian (the Royal Opera [royaloperahouse.org] is right...). We definitely do not need microphones eavesdropping on us. I can already see the first headlines in the metro: "Drug dealers arrested after being overheard by micros!" And everyone will cheer...
      • That's a perfectly reasonable point of view.

        Part of where I'm coming from - ever since reading Bob Shaw's Other Days, Other Eyes I've been convinced that attempts to hold back the spread of surveillance devices are Canute-like in the extreme. (I think David Brin has also written on the same subject.) Once they're tiny, disposable, wirelessly-networked, absurdly cheap and plausibly deniable, they WILL be everywhere.

        Rather than fighting a losing battle against technological inevitability, I think we'd be be
    • I think you just missed the entire "boiling frog" point.

      • Um, no. Although I do seem to have missed the point where disagreeing with an editorial comment became "missing the point". Was there a memo?

        I'm not wild about universal public surveillance, but as I wrote in another post [slashdot.org] I think it's a technological inevitability, and we're better off legislating around the usage of surveillance data.
        • by dustmite (667870) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @08:13AM (#12467187)

          The point is that with each new step (e.g. first cameras, now microphones, next .. ?) the concept of being "watched all the time" becomes normalised amongst the public (and you, regardless of whether you think you are immune to this effect). Thus each new step taken is approved by the public because it only marginally increases the amount of surveillance currently in place, which, whatever the level, is considered 'perfectly normal' because it's already there. Each marginal increment is very soon normalised too.

          Maybe you personally are able to draw the line somewhere (e.g. public vs. private spaces), but I promise you, 99% of the other humans around you are not - they have not even thought about this at all, and do not have a 'line' that they will draw that cannot be crossed - as a result, there IS no upper limit to how omnipresent surveillance will become. It's not a matter of if the line between public/private surveillance is crossed, it's only a matter of when, and people will accept it because most people don't even think about these things like you do. For them, it will already be normal to be watched all the time, so it'll just be an extension of the same thing. It will start, of course, with spaces that are somewhere between public and private, e.g. shopping malls, restaurants.

          The technological capability of universal surveillance may be inevitable, however socially and politically it is most certainly not an inevitability. If people protested it strongly enough it would never actually happen. It is only "inevitable" so long as people believe it is an inevitability, and thus simply accept it. You are doing precisely this. You will never be able to effectively legislate surveillance in a world where everyone regards surveillance as normal. The only way to prevent it is to evangalise and 'normalise' the idea that surveillance itself should be balked at, anytime. This is tricky though due to the positive practical purposes that surveillance can serve, e.g. lowering the crime rate.

  • a little late: (Score:2, Insightful)

    by 3.09 a hour (812839)
    " if you call about a repeated disturbance, they'll mount one by your place to monitor noise levels for the next several days." Saturday night: End all party (the forth this month to end all) file a noise complaint Monday: Technition installs mic (if your LUCKY, and he installs it on the first workday) Tues-Thurs: nothing recorded on mic Compaired to: Saturday: Police come to noise complaint, tell people to shut it off and go home *note* im a firm beliver in just going over there myself before anyone
  • 1984 here we come (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AmiMoJo (196126) <mojoNO@SPAMworld3.net> on Sunday May 08, 2005 @06:00AM (#12466853) Homepage
    The first thing this reminded me of was the book 1984, where people are worried that hidden microphones may pick up their anti Big Brother conversations.

    Having said that, it might be okay as long as actual sounds are not transmitted, but rather just sound levels (properly encrypted of course). Somehow, I don't have much faith though.

    The UK is slowly moving towards a survalance nation. We have more CCTV per person than anyone else in Europe. Of course, violent crime is actually on the rise.

    Frankly, I don't really care if my attacker was caught on CCTV, or even brought to justice. What I care about is not being mugged in the first place, feeling safe and protecting my privacy.
    • Frankly, I don't really care if my attacker was caught on CCTV, or even brought to justice. What I care about is not being mugged in the first place, feeling safe and protecting my privacy.

      You're contradicting yourself, fear of justice makes people less likely to commit crimes so you imply that support such cameras. Also, safety and privacy are exclusive in numerous regards.
    • Move away. I just did.

      Less noise, less pollution, less traffic, less crime, less intrusion, less stress, less expense.

      London is a great place to visit for a week. It's a horrible place to live and work, though it's still better than Manchester.

    • by Tjoppen (831002)
      Well, sound is just sound levels sampled at a higher rate.
      So after a while they could just go rate = 44.1kHz...
    • [quote]Frankly, I don't really care if my attacker was caught on CCTV, or even brought to justice. What I care about is not being mugged in the first place, feeling safe and protecting my privacy.[/quote]
      If attackers were usually caught and brought to justice, it'd make you feel safer and reduce the risk of you being mugged in the first place.
    • i do feel more safe if there is CCTV.

      Like on the bus going through peckham when groups of youths from the local youth detention center "enquired" about what type of phone i had. Also outside clubs where fights regularly break out.

      I'm not saying we don't need more police or anything like that and i hate the whole ID card scheme but I actually quite like CCTV and brighter lights.
    • by NanoGator (522640)
      "The first thing this reminded me of was the book 1984, where people are worried that hidden microphones may pick up their anti Big Brother conversations."

      Erm. I have some problems with that scenario:

      1.) The more that is recorded, the more that has to be sifted through and turned useful. Even with decent voice recognition, this is a hell of a lot of work requiring a LOT of processing power (assuming it's even automatic), lots of bandwidth, and LOTs of mics all over the place to actually catch anybody.
      • All good points. I just want to add that the 9/11 commission (sorry for the reference, but it really is relevant) determined that the FBI/CIA/etc. had enough information to stop the terrorist attacks. Moreover, they had too much information. And they were only collecting information about a small subset of the population. If they were to start collecting information about everyone, they'd be swamped.

        But this is not to say that an Orwellian nightmare couldn't happen right now. In fact, it's quite eas
    • Frankly, I don't really care if my attacker was caught on CCTV, or even brought to justice. What I care about is not being mugged in the first place, feeling safe and protecting my privacy.
      This seems a curious thing to say. I take it you believe that jail is not an effective deterrent against crime? What would you suggest in its place?
      • "This seems a curious thing to say. I take it you believe that jail is not an effective deterrent against crime? What would you suggest in its place?"

        Look at it this way, we now have more CCTV than ever, and more voilent crime than ever. That would seem to suggest that CCTV is not a deterrant to voilent crime.

        Consider this. Voilent crime has risen. For some reason, people are not more inclined to commit voilent crimes. Some people would suggest that this is because punishment is not as harsh as it used t
        • Re:1984 here we come (Score:3, Interesting)

          by arevos (659374)

          Look at it this way, we now have more CCTV than ever, and more voilent crime than ever. That would seem to suggest that CCTV is not a deterrant to voilent crime.

          I doubt it's as black and white as that. It could be that violent crime would rise at a more rapid pace without all of the cameras, to play devil's advocate to your argument.

          I would suggest that it is because our society is becomming more disfunctional.

          Another factor to consider is that as the technology of security increases, humans become

    • by ScentCone (795499)
      How about if budget was no issue, and there were enough polite, trained Bobbies to stand at every street corner, 24x7, db-meter in hand? Same (even better) net effect, and the bonus of being a deterrent to all sorts of other petty (and not so petty) crime.

      But that's completely ridiculous, money-wise, so you have to lean on technology to increase manpower, just like we do in so many other ways. The capacity to do something Orwellian doesn't mean that's the policy or the intent. But being able to address s
  • Oh, SUPER! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NickFortune (613926) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @06:11AM (#12466881) Homepage Journal
    We already rejoice in the most pervasive video surveilance in the world. Now they're going to have the whole bloody island wired for sound as well.

    At least they're not touting this as an anti-terrorist measure. I guess that's no longer as credible as it used to be.

  • WiFi squatters? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by marcello_dl (667940) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @06:13AM (#12466894) Homepage Journal
    One big question about the deployment of such mics: how will they interoperate with other WiFi networks?

    If they will interfere or occupy the wrong frequency bands it's a big help to those who have all to fear from the technical achievements of WiFi.
  • There are many boroughs in London, Westminster is but one of them.

  • Eh? (Score:3, Funny)

    by ickypoo (568859) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @06:40AM (#12466967)
    Are they asking for drunken serenades?

    Because it sure seems like they are.
  • While Londoners are using Microphones to handle noise violations, the people of East Palo Alto, California used them for accoustic analysis to determine from which direction the bullets were flying in a particularly gang-ridden neighborhood, and it was reported to have worked. Very few residents complained about their rights being violated.

    Now, on the other hand, if London started recording conversations, that would make for a more interesting - and invasive- use. At that point we're heading right for 1984. Of course, London already uses cameras in public places for use as evidence, so their networking infrastructure is already there...
  • Well... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by kirun (658684)
    It all depends if the microphones are linked to equipment which is simply measuring the volume, or recording the actual sounds.

    Having lived in a flat very close to a nightclub, I'd support measures to fight their noise nuisance. If you were plotting to overthrow the government, you'd have no worries about the microphone picking it up - the relentless thud, thud, thud would drown you out.
  • As a citizen... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by abulafia (7826) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @07:46AM (#12467123)
    I reserve the right to mumble incoherently at the mic, at loud (but not peace disturbing) volume, early and often. I have a lot to say about urgent matters that should worry the police, and they ignore me at their peril. We're talking about public noise, yes? So they have no complaint about interference.

    Hell, directional speakers might be really neat here, until they ban the use.

    "When noise makers are outlawed, only outlaws... &etc."

  • by Archon-X (264195) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @07:57AM (#12467154)
    I was exploring a disused cinema in Brisbane, Australia, in the UBD.

    I made my way to the rooftop, and on an awning pointing toward the street was a large protective case, padlocked and covered with council stencils, with a large mic pointing toward the street, and an antenna.

    The stickers on the case drew mention to ambient noise monitoring..

    I guess the UK isn't the first place to have this/
  • Hey kids! Why watch TV when you can be on the radio!

    (Stud to hot chicks) "Hey good lookin' We'll be back to pick you up later!" (family gathering) "We got a mighty convoy 'cross the USA! Convoy!"

    (announcer) Just tune your radio to an unused AM station and speak into the lamp post. Fun for all ages!

    Seriously, isn't New York and LA already using something like this for detecting gunshots?

  • by 3seas (184403) on Sunday May 08, 2005 @09:16AM (#12467394) Journal
    I recall reading some research on the video camera london installed on its streets. They found that operators/human monitors of the feeds spent most of their time focused on the sexual activities of people on the street. They also found some of the people on the street, playing to the cameras.

    Well I guess London is getting into the amature candid porn business....
  • by mikeage (119105) <slashdot&mikeage,net> on Sunday May 08, 2005 @09:21AM (#12467429) Homepage
    I dunno -- I always thought of the French as the ones getting the frogs...

FORTRAN is a good example of a language which is easier to parse using ad hoc techniques. -- D. Gries [What's good about it? Ed.]

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