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Smile, Villains! London Cops Start Wearing Cameras Today

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Met Police Cameras
Metropolitan Police wear body-worn video cameras, ahead of a year-long pilot scheme in Kentish Town, London, on May 6, 2014. Photographer: Yui Mok - WPA Pool

London's police force will start testing smartphone-sized wearable cameras today, deploying 500 of the devices to record a police-eye-view of the city. The Metropolitan Police service is hopeful that the cameras, clipped onto officers' chests, will aid evidence gathering, said James Hulme, a spokesman for the Met.

The U.K. is no stranger to surveillance. The country had deployed as many as 5.9 million closed-circuit TV cameras as of last July, according to a survey by the British Security Industry Authority. That's about one camera for every 11 people.

In the birthplace of George Orwell, critics of the scheme have drawn comparisons to Big Brother and the author's dystopian novel "1984." London has wrestled repeatedly with issues of digital privacy, such as when the city ordered its supplier of space-age trash cans to stop collecting data from pedestrians' mobile devices.

Still, the cameras will be particularly useful for investigating crimes such as domestic violence, where a victim might withdraw allegations, Hulme said. About 13,500 of the cameras, produced by stun-gun maker Taser International, are worn by police in the U.S., including Fort Worth, Texas, Las Vegas and New Orleans, Taser said in a statement today.

Police using the devices in Rialto, California, said that the cameras, which can also catch misbehavior by officers, have cut citizen complaints by 88 percent. It also led to a 59 percent reduction in uses of force, according to Taser.

In this case, Big Brother is watching himself.

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