Sydney surveillance methods to reach unprecedented levels
Sydney is the 15th-most surveilled metropolitan city in the world – and surveillance will hit “undreamed of” levels within a decade as the city’s population surges past 5.8 million.
Sydney now has 12.35 cameras for every 1000 people, reports British firm Comparitech, and “much closer surveillance” lies ahead, says David Tuffley, a senior lecturer in applied ethics and cyber security at Griffith University.
“We are definitely moving towards a society and a future of more intensive surveillance, that’s for sure,” he said. “If you look at how fast the trend is developing, I am pretty sure by about 2030 we will have levels of surveillance in Australia that are undreamed of currently.”
The number of CCTV cameras in Australia has doubled in the past decade to about 1 million, with about 300,000 of those in NSW. Over the next four years, the state government plans to increase the number of CCTVs in Parramatta, Liverpool and Camden by 1000.
Lord mayor Clover Moore said the City of Sydney operated 106 CCTV cameras within its local government area, which are monitored 24/7 by “specially trained security personnel”. The council was critical of the methodology used by Comparitech, which put Sydney above Moscow and Baghdad for levels of surveillance.
“We need to balance crime prevention needs and the right to individual privacy, which is why we’ve taken care to install the cameras in hot spot areas identified by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research and the NSW Police, and have tight privacy controls in place,” Cr Moore said.
Which technologies will be used to combat crime in 2030?
The federal government is working with the states and territories to obtain driver licence details for a national facial recognition system called the “National Facial Biometric Matching Capability”, which will intensify citizen-tracking abilities.
The system, to which the NSW government has allocated $52.6 million over four years, is already operational in providing a one-to-one image-based match of a person’s photo against a government record, such as a passport.
We do have surveillance and it is pretty pervasive.
David Tuffley, applied ethics and cybersecurity lecturer
With the collection of state licences, which the Department of Home Affairs told the Herald would be complete in 2021, a one-to-many system will be used, which will image-match a suspected criminal against multiple government records to help establish their identity.
Mr Tuffley believes the system is a low-level replica of Chinese citizen-tracking systems, which cross-references photos of jaywalkers to display their name and identification number.
“India and China are probably the most extreme examples of pervasive street-level surveillance that can recognise people’s faces, follow them as they go about town and build up a profile of their movements over time,” he says. “We do have surveillance and it is pretty pervasive, particularly in the city areas, but it’s not like it is over there.”
What types of crimes will be committed in 2030?
Sydney has experienced a drop in crime since 2000, which is attributed to a change in people’s “motivation to offend”.
NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research acting executive director Jackie Fitzgerald said the trend was also the result of a reduction in heroin use.
“Heroin users traditionally committed a lot of crimes to fund their habit and heroin isn’t as popular a drug as it was 20 years ago, so that’s certainly a big thing,” she said. “People have also proposed that economic conditions are better so people are less motivated to offend; people are more likely to be online.”
Ms Fitzgerald expects that by 2030 “internet facilitated” crimes, such as cybercrime, fraud and credit card offences, will increase.
“We’ve absolutely seen increases in pornography type offences, sharing of images, child pornography, as well as the non-consensual sharing of images,” she said. “Where there are new population hubs which didn’t exist before, we will also see a crime increase in those places. Just by nature of the population increase, there will be increases in crimes in those locations.”
Prisons in 2030
Within the Sydney metro region, the NSW government has projected a shortfall in fit-for-purpose prison beds in 2022 due to overcrowding within the prison system, with “a business case” being prepared by the government to address the issue.
Now, 26.8 per cent of those released from prison reoffend within 12 months, with the proportion increasing in recent years.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian vowed in June to reduce reoffending across the state by 5 per cent by the end of 2022. “While it is far too early to predict the impact this will have by 2030, the intention is that there will be less crime in Sydney and, everything else being equal, a smaller proportion of the population in prison,” a NSW Corrective Services spokeswoman said.
A 1700-bed private prison is being built near Grafton and the Dillwynia Correctional Centre at Windsor is being expanded.
The Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre at Silverwater and the Outer Metropolitan Multi-Purpose Correctional Centre in Windsor are also being expanded.
Justice Action coordinator Brett Collins said building more jails was not the answer to overflowing prison populations. He urged the government to consider alternatives to imprisonment such as home detention, mentoring programs and intensive correction orders.
“Building more prisons in Sydney would be ridiculous … it is unsustainable even in the short term,” he said. “Overflowing prisons just means more crime as less services are available per prisoner and more people become drug dependent.”
Terrorism in Sydney in 2030
Former police deputy commissioner Nick Kaldas said Sydney’s growing population was a concern from a public safety standpoint, particularly “in terms of terrorism”.
“It does bring a whole lot of problems with it. Sydney with its large numbers is attractive to these people in terms of exposure,” he said.
Mr Kaldas said facial recognition, such as the facial matching capability, will likely be used to keep Sydneysiders safe at major events such as the NRL grand final and New Year’s Eve.
“The Sydney Cricket Ground announced a while ago that they have facial recognition software and they are using it to keep those who are banned away from the premises. That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
“Now, looking forward to 2030 and big events, I can’t see how technology will not be increased and used to try to make sure everyone is safe.”
It does bring a whole lot of problems with it.
Nick Kaldas, former Deputy Police Commissioner, on Sydney’s booming population
Mr Tuffley said that by 2030 technology would exist that statistically determined whether a citizen was “likely” to commit a crime, which would be one of the biggest futuristic counter-terrorism tools.
“I think we’ve already got something like that now, but it’s probably not as sophisticated as some parts of the world as we would like yet,” he said.
With this technology, Mr Tuffley said, a person would likely receive a knock on the door by police if they were identified as a person of “risk” to the community.
“I think the police will take a soft approach at first, go and have a chat rather than drag them in front of their workmates,” he said.
“So I don’t think they would be inclined to act in a heavy-handed way, not in the first instance anyway, but maybe the third, that could be a problem.”
The Sydney Morning Herald is hosting a population summit on September 23. For more details and to view the list of speakers click here.
Sarah is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald.