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Europe, U.S. Take U.K. Lead on Cameras

By JOHN LEICESTER Associated Press Writer

British police quickly closed in on suspects in the failed bomb plots in London and Scotland - only the latest terror investigation to display the crucial role of the country's vast network of surveillance cameras.

The system is winning converts in the United States and Europe, to the alarm of some privacy advocates.

In New York, officials have announced plans to outfit hundreds of Manhattan buses with cameras and add 3,000 motion sensors to subways and commuter rail facilities.Department of Homeland Security LogoFrench President Nicolas Sarkozy says he is contemplating a 'vast plan' to install more cameras on public transport. 'I amvery impressed by the efficiency of the British police thanks to this network of cameras,' Sarkozy said in an interview published this weekend in the weekly Le Journal du Dimanche. 'In my mind, there is no contradiction between respecting individual freedoms and the installation of cameras to protect everyone's security.'

Britain has about 4 million closed-circuit security cameras, and police say the average Briton is on as many as 300 cameras every day. Video was crucial in catching and prosecuting the four would-be suicide bombers convicted Monday for plotting to detonate backpacks laden with explosive charges and shrapnel on public transport on July 21, 2005.

Chilling footage showed one bomber attempting to detonate his charge facing a mother and young child in a subway. The cameras also captured moments of heroism, including an off-duty firefighter remonstrating with the bomber.

In all, police had 18,000 hours of footage available, which was edited down to seven hours used in the trial. One of the bombers fled London disguised in a head-to-toe black veil worn by some devout Muslim women - a getaway also captured on camera. Police investigating the latest failed attacks have also looked through hundreds of hours of surveillance footage, including images of both of the explosive-packed cars found in London on June 29, and one of the suspected drivers.

The footage apparently helped police track the journeys of the cars and make the link between the attempts in London and the Jeep that rammed into a Glasgow airport building the next day. The trend toward greater use of closed-circuit cameras and other monitoring technologies worries some in Britain and elsewhere in Europe.

The French state-funded authority that monitors the protection of privacy and personal data warned this week of a 'society of surveillance.'

'Technological innovation brings both progress and dangers,' Senator Alex Turk, the authority's president, wrote in its annual report. 'People are tempted by the comfort that it offers, but are barely aware of the risks.'

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The wave of terror plots in Britain in recent years also indicates that while surveillance cameras may be useful for investigators, they do not deter bombers determined to take their lives and kill others.

The technology is constantly being honed. Cameras in London photograph the license plates of cars so drivers can be charged for bringing them into the town center. But the day when cameras can monitor crowds for specific people may still be far away. 'It's difficult for a camera to recognize any face in a crowd of people, let alone a specific one,' said David Wood, an expert in video surveillance at the University of Newcastle in northern England.

Britain was first to pioneer widespread use of closed-circuit cameras in the 1980s to monitor the movements of Irish Republican Army bombers. Footage proved instrumental in identifying the paths of massive truck bombs detonated in the 1990s in London's financial district. Investigators were able to piece together the attacks from cameras that picked up the progress of each truck bomb as it made its way on roads in Northern Ireland, on to vehicle ferries to Scotland, and down motorways in Britain to their targets.


Associated Press Writers across Europe contributed to this report.