Alex Massie

Big Brother is Listening to You

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The sad thing is that you can no longer consider this sort of thing surprising:

Security cameras have long been a fact of Scottish life, viewed with relief by many communities and with suspicion by civil libertarians.

But what if they were listening to you as well? It has already happened in Glasgow.

A Dutch company called Sound Intelligence carried out a two week long trial in a busy city centre street.

They stress that their system, called Sigard, does not record conversations. It listens not to what is being said but how it is being said.

At the company's headquarters in the Dutch city of Amersfoort, Bram Kuipers explained that Sigard was listening for the changes that affect the human voice in an aggressive situation...

Sound Intelligence say Sigard is able to discriminate between the sound of aggression and other, everyday loud noises like passing trucks and car horns.

Kuipers demonstrated this by clapping his hands. A display screen noted the sounds but took no action. Then he shouted aggressively. This time an alarm sounded and a CCTV camera spun round to look directly at the source of the shouting.

Such systems are already in everyday use on the streets of several Dutch towns and cities. The company said it also has uses in potential flashpoints like prisons and benefits offices.

There are hopes eventually to sell Sigard in other markets - hence the Glasgow trial.

"We installed a couple of microphones in one of the main streets of Glasgow," Kuipers said.

"It's working. We detected aggression and it's currently under evaluation." It detected "aggression" in Glasgow City Centre? In other news, catholics are more likely to support Celtic than Rangers.

Where will it all end? Answer: it probably won't.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleSocietyscotland