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Campus has its own Big Brother?

Reassuring? Or creepy?

Reassuring? Or creepy?

The head of Security at the University of Sussex has been praising the University’s excellent security system to the security magazine SMT Online. Sussex campus spans 280 acres and like any university, the campus must be kept secure, ensuring the wellbeing of the students while simultaneously allowing for an open and accessible learning facility. As such, it faces the security challenges that are typical of such institutions; anti-social and criminal behaviour that can occur both inside and outside the campus buildings and Student Union areas.

Speaking last week to security magazine SMT Online, the head of security at Sussex, Roger Morgan, spoke of Sussex’s sterling security systems: “The University has a good rating for security in the National Student Survey. In part, at least, this must be due to the presence of our surveillance system which is used very successfully in conjunction with security officers ‘on the ground.’ It helps us to monitor activities on the campus and prevent incursion from any unwanted visitors.” He continued to illustrate, as an example of the efficacy of the system, the successful “detention of some youths who were targeting our site and stealing bicycles from the cycle racks over a period of days.”

According to Trevor Clifton-Sprigg, of AM Fire and Security, who set up the system at Sussex, the campus comprises of 120 cameras, including 35 external cameras, which feature an innovative motion tracking capability and a high-resolution optical zoom of up to 25x to capture intense close-up detail.

All cameras are controlled and monitored centrally from York House, while individual computers allow building users to monitor their own surveillance cameras and recordings. Constant reviews are required to ensure the best coverage is maintained in key areas, such as the new Stanmer Park Residences which Morgan cited as a technical problem, separated, as some students feel, from the central campus body. Morgan told SMT that “Cameras [cover] the internal and external areas of the new site, including the subway between the campus and the halls of residence.”

“There are many benefit s of this sy stem that I look forward to exploiting like the possibility of facial recognition for spotting known people who might target the university as walk-in thieves.”

Many will be pleased to know of such extensive monitoring. One student comments: “It certainly makes the walk to and from Falmer station in the dark, an undoubtedly forbidding trip, seem safer, knowing someone is watching.” However, a few students question whether it is necessary.

Another student commented that “ultimately they could be used in ways that can infringe, both on our personal privacy and the privacy of other visitors to our campus.” Morgan continued: “There are many benefits of this system that I look forward to exploiting, like the possibility of facial recognition technology for spotting known people who might target the university as walk-in thieves.”

The University responded stating that “We have used CCTV systems at Sussex for over 15 years; they are just part of the way in which our 24-hour security teams work to help ensure the safety of the whole Sussex community. “Face recognition” in this sense simply means that the more accurate the image, the better the evidence that can be used. Such situations are, thankfully, infrequent.”

One student commented that “it is imperative that a secure facility is maintained across campus, allowing students and external learners alike to benefit from the university, its library, Union and surroundings” but, they question what level of surveillance and monitoring is acceptable: “our campus could become a nanny state.”

Morgan has extensive CCTV experience, both establishing and developing systems for local authorities. “The university has a good CCTV system,” he assures, “From a technical standpoint we cannot get much better.” The University concludes that they “take privacy and data-protection issues seriously. We continue to work with the Students’ Union to ensure security remains effective and responsive to students’ needs. This includes the proper management and safeguarding of the privacy of students as well as their personal safety. There have been no issues of student privacy raised in relation to CCTV.”

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