UK police's "Big Brother"' surveillance

The first juvenile offender to be punished under the British Home Office "Big Brother" surveillance scheme was tagged this week--and will be tracked using voice and face recognition.

LONDON (ZDNet UK)--A 14-year-old joyrider became the first persistent young offender to be punished with a Home Office electronic surveillance scheme on Tuesday, making him subject to 24 hour tracking, seven days a week.

Magistrates at Stratford Youth Court imposed the first intensive supervision surveillance programme (ISSP) on the juvenile this week. The electronic tag was fitted on him after the court hearing.

The ISSP was launched by home secretary David Blunkett on Tuesday, whose department has invested £45m (US$64m) in a high-tech computer system that can be used to monitor hardcore repeat offenders. Electronic tags worn by the criminals will be linked to a computerised voice recognition system that telephones the juvenile at various times of the day to check that they are where they are supposed to be. CCTV cameras in town centres will also be configured to recognise the faces of tagged youths.

"This is a new hard-hitting programme that is aimed at repeating young offenders--it is a robust alternative to giving a custodial sentence," said a Home Office spokesman. "It means that they are not actually going to prison."

Juveniles will be eligible for the "Big Brother" style community penalties if they have offended on four or more occasions in the last 12 months, and had at least one previous sentence. "Short custodial sentences are not effective in changing behaviour and preventing further offending," said Norman Warner, chairman of the Youth Justice Board, who is managing the scheme.

Blunkett visited the control centre in Newham, East London on Tuesday, to inspect the council's £600,000 (US$857,357)-a-year computer system, which is planned to be extended to 41 other areas across England and Wales by the end of the year. The first 22 schemes were announced in April, and a further 19 areas learned this week that they have received funding.