[This article was submitted to thelondonpaper and approved for publication. It was then pullled at the last minute due to a 'senior editorial decison'. Conspiracy theorists, make of that what you will]
Look up. You are being watched! Sorry, I don't mean the pretty brunette or the yummy hunk sitting opposite you. I meant the CCTV cameras that followed you, unblinking, as you walked through the station.
Did you know that there are more than 6000 CCTV cameras on the London Underground? You probably didn't notice them. It's a strange thing but the more of these little grey boxes there are, the more your eye just slips over them, unnoticed. Yet, they have watched your every step.
Perhaps you saw The Bourne Ultimatum featuring Matt Damon mercilessly hunted down at Waterloo by the station's CCTV cameras. Thrilling, wasn't it? But why worry? You're not a rogue agent, on the run from the CIA, are you?
Regardless of who you are, the average Londoner is videotaped 300 times a day. This will only increase when London Underground doubles its cameras to 12,000 by 2011.
But don't all these cameras make me safe? Well, CCTV did capture the faces of the July 7 suicide bombers, but it didn't prevent the crime. A comparison of London boroughs showed that police are no more likely to catch criminals in areas with lots of CCTV cameras, than those without.
But I'm not a criminal, you say? No, you look honest. But what does an honest face look like? There are now facial recognition systems that can match a face in a crowd against a database. London Underground tested a system back in 2003 that spots 'abnormal' behaviour. It can be used to prevent criminals and overcrowding on platforms, but it can also be used to cast an intrusive eye on your behaviour on a Friday night.
Then, there is your mobile phone, which can pinpoint you within a couple hundred feet. For a few quid, anyone can register a mobile phone number to a commercial tracking service, and then watch their movements on an online map. What! Can anyone do this, you ask? Yes, but you need their permission – but often a quick reply to an ambiguous text message will be sufficient. One jilted wife in Hong Kong recently took her philandering husband to the cleaners using just these methods so be careful where you leave your phone.
Do you remember that brunette / hunk that I mentioned, well, think twice before you get their number, you don't know who is watching...