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Robert Niles

Big Brother wants to record your day at Alton Towers

Published: March 24, 2006 at 9:58 AM

The U.K. gave the world "Big Brother" (Orwell's literary account of omnipresent state surveillance, not the reality-TV show) and in 2007 will witness the theme park version.

Alton Towers has announced that it will next year offer guests customized DVDs documenting their visit to the park. Guests will wear bracelets fitted with RFID tags that will trigger surveillance cameras throughout the park. The video footage will be spliced together automatically with stock, "B roll" footage from the park to produce the custom video highlight DVDs for each customer. The DVDs will contain up to 30 minutes of footage.

Prices and distribution details, for both the bracelets and the DVDs, have yet to be worked out.

Video surveillance of theme park guests is nothing new. (Oh, the stories I could tell you about what I've seen in security monitors! Ladies, if your boyfriend wants to get frisky on a theme park ride and tells you that nobody can see you, let's just say... he's wrong.) But Alton's new plan certainly takes this to a new level.

Replies (4)

Gareth H

Published: March 24, 2006 at 11:01 AM

Now thats just freaky, yet cool...
rick stevens

Published: March 24, 2006 at 11:10 PM

I agree that it is spooky and cool all at the same time. A question arises though, there will be others on your DVD. Will guests be required to sign general release forms for their images to be distributed and sold to other patrons? Don't know the UK rules, but it seems that there could be issues in the US.
Rip Henry

Published: March 25, 2006 at 10:45 AM

I think that they shouldn't because I think it is an invasion of privacy.
Robert Niles

Published: March 30, 2006 at 5:45 PM

Well, we have a Bill of Rights in the United States for a reason... essentially, because the U.K. didn't have one. (Okay, I'm oversimplifying the reasons for the American Revolution a wee bit.)

Not that we have a legislative right to privacy in the United States, of course. (We got religion, press, habeas corpus, etc., but not privacy.) The right to privacy in the U.S. flows from Supreme Court decisions, the leading of which conservatives are trying to get overturned, namely, Roe v. Wade. (Wait a minute, I thought conservatives were supposed to be *against* government intrusion into private lives? Not when sex is involved, I guess.)

Anyway, I remember hearing a few weeks back about government agents coming into private homes in the U.K. to photograph people's property, to ensure that they were paying the proper amount of taxes on it. And the U.K. has a well-established history of public video surveillance, much more than in the U.S. So I suspect folks in the U.K. would be more used to this sort of thing than we would.

But the use of RFID to track people in theme parks is not unprecedented, even in the United States. Remember those magic pins at Walt Disney World, that would light up when you passed certain locations in the park? RFID tags. [Correction (3/30): A reader reminds me that RFID tags are passive, so they couldn't have been used here. If RFID were involved, it would have had a light flicking on on a building or something as the user walked by. A better example would be a ride that was programmed with several animation options, triggered by the RFID tags worn by users or ride units that passed by.] They could have just as easily been rigged to do what Alton Towers will be doing.

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