A Lewisham council boss denied that traffic cameras are tracking people’s movements at a meeting on draft budget cuts on Thursday (November 12).  

A member of the sustainable development select committee raised questions about a “Big Brother” style scheme that was brought in in the wake of the pandemic. 

Vivacity Labs initially developed artificial intelligence cameras to track the flow of traffic, cyclists, and pedestrians, and to monitor road usage.  

But it emerged in October that when the country went into lockdown Vivacity introduced sensors that track people’s movements to “monitor social distancing and lockdown restrictions”. The data is shared with the Government every month.  

There are more than 1,000 sensors in cities across the UK, including London, but the exact locations have not been released.  

Kevin Sheehan, executive director of housing, regeneration, and environment, presented the details and context of the draft cuts to the sustainable development committee on Thursday. 

See more: Sustainable development committee discusses Lewisham cuts

The council needs to save £40 million over the next three years – “at least” £24 million in cuts will be made next year.   

It has identified £15 million for next year and is set to publish the next round in January, ahead of full council in February.  

The council is proposing to make £1.5 million in three years from introducing new controlled parking zones (CPZs) and more cameras to clamp down on traffic offences.    

But Cllr Suzannah Clarke said “we have to be very careful about cameras”.  

“We’re becoming one of the greatest countries in the world for surveillance of our people and having been to North Korea five times I realised how it feels to be watched at every turn. 

“I’m seriously concerned about the number of cameras that are being rolled out across residential streets.  

“It means you can no longer walk down virtually any street in the borough without being watched,” Cllr Clarke said.  

She referred to traffic cameras that had been changed to monitor social distancing.  

“That’s happening in quite a few boroughs. We have to be very careful about becoming Big Brother. 

“Also, making a lot of money out of punitive fines on people – there’s a balance between health and safety, and feeling like Big Brother’s always behind you, waiting to grab money from you. Residents feel we need to find that balance.” 

Mr Sheehan said he agreed and would “be cautious”, adding he was “not aware” of the AI camera issue. 

“There are rules about what you can use these cameras for and you certainly can’t use them to spy on people,” he said.