<i>48 Hours: </i>Lessons Of Britain

Constant Surveillance In Urban Areas

If there is one city that understands the horror of Sept. 11, it is London, which has lived with terrorism for decades. Over the years, the city has developed ways to contain the threat.

Colin and Elaine Perry lived through the Nazi blitz in World War II. "It was absolutely shocking," he says. "The whole landscape was desolate. There wasn’t a thing standing."

Even though they were teen-agers, both felt then what many Americans feel today.

"I wanted revenge, not bitterness. I wanted us to fight back," says Colin.

From their own painful history, the British have taken measures to fight back terrorists, be they IRA bombers, or Osama bin Laden's cells.

"I got fairly used to facing the threats from terrorism there," says Roger Davies, a former commander of the Northern Ireland bomb squad. He says U.S. police need the same tools that British cops use. Among them is Closed Circuit Television, or CCTV.

The people of Great Britain are the most watched in the world. Cameras are everywhere, watching nearly everything, from St. Paul’s Cathedral to Parliament. Across Great Britain, there are more than two million surveillance cameras, keeping an eye on street criminals, as well as terrorists.

"Intelligence shows us that the IRA will avoid areas where the cameras are. Because the terrorists know they will get caught one way or the other on camera," says Bob Lack, head of security for the Borough of Newham in east London. From a control room, personnel monitor more than 250 cameras, which pan, zoom and record all life in public areas.

Lack says the results have been dramatic: a 30 percent reduction in crime.

Sir Robin Wales, the leader of the borough, says that he is not uncomfortable with the cameras: "I hope they're watching us! Because the whole point is, I want to know this place is safe. So I want these here. And I want to catch the people that think they have the right to determine how the rest of us should live or what should happen to us."

Lack says that CCTV evidence helped convict one man who set a bomb.

Not everyone approves of the surveillance. "When I look at a sign that warns me that I'm being watched, the first thing I think of is George Orwell, 1984. A society where everybody just expects routinely to be monitored by the state," says civil liberties advocate Simon Davies.

Davies estimates that six to seven million cameras will be installed in U.S. cities in the next four years. "The primary challenge to human rights and to privacy from these cameras is simply that it makes people behave differently," Davies says. "It makes them cautious, neurotic. It changes their interactions. Everybody is brought to heel. Everybody’s made to be good. It's like living in some giant shopping mall."

In Newham, there’s more to these cameras than meets the eye. Newham is the first place to use face recognition technology. A computer scans faces on the street looking for a match with faces stored in its ata bank. Newham officials say matches happen about three times a day. The police are then notified.

Tim Pidgeon of Visionics, the company that developed the software, explains how it works. First, a face is placed in the data bank. Police can do the same with mug shots or pictures of known terrorists. The computer scans the faces on camera looking for a match. In a test with Van Sant, the computer makes the match in less than a second. At that point, an alarm goes off, alerting an operator. But the system is not perfect: It didn’t make a match when Van Sant wore a cap and sunglasses.

Face recognition technology is already in use at the Keflavic airport in Iceland. "Technology like this will help to prevent acts of terrorism. If you're known, you couldn't get onto a bus, a train, a plane without having an operator being alerted to your presence," says Lack.

Davies hates the idea: "You can put up millions of cameras, connect them to a single computer, and just put the whole population on auto surveillance. Now, that sort of society I regard as totally different to anything we’ve known throughout history."

Cameras also record the license plates of vehicles entering the center of London, in what’s called the "Ring of Steel." Many cars and trucks are searched.

Davies says the British people themselves play a role: "In becoming more aware of our surroundings, asking what perhaps were before intrusive questions of our neighbors, but accepting that’s one of the prices we have to pay to live in the world that we do."

Despite all these measures, bombs sometimes still explode. Davies says that this fact is something those in the modern world may have to learn to live with.

The Perrys, who lived through the Blitz, are certain that Americans will prevail.

"Have great faith in your nation, great faith in yourselves," says Colin. "Stand firm."

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