Surveillance cameras are now so powerful that they were able to zoom in on individual spectators at the Rugby World Cup and read their text messages.
Details of police monitoring used for the first time during the tournament were discussed at a privacy forum in Wellington yesterday, at which it was revealed that the average person is digitally recorded about a dozen times a day – and even more if they use email and social media frequently.
Superintendent Grant O'Fee told the forum how one incident at the Rugby World Cup "tweaked in my head" a concern about possible privacy breaches.
Camera operators who were scanning the crowd for unruly behaviour or suspicious packages chose to zoom in on a person who was texting.
"He was actually texting about the poor quality of the game of rugby. But it did occur to me that there was an issue there - had he been texting something that was of some consequence to us, there may have been privacy issues."
He confirmed later that the level of monitoring used during the World Cup would continue for all big test matches.
CCTV now operates inside many buildings, including hospitals, supermarkets, malls, and around public toilets.
There are 11 cameras in Wellington city centre, recording 24 hours a day.
In Britain, drone cameras, mobile cameras on cars and cameras on police helmets are in frequent use.
Soon, technology will exist that can pick up on raised voices, and sniffing devices will be able to detect drug residue, Stirling University lecturer William Webster told the forum.
Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff said some overseas developments were amazing and she imagined there would be concern if and when that technology was implemented in New Zealand.
Civil liberties lawyer Michael Bott warned against becoming desensitised to digital surveillance.
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