Essential reading for all CCTV advocates
How did it come about that the United Kingdom, a country that supposedly had such high regard for individual freedom, came to fall under the spell of such an all pervasive surveillance state? To understand how the spell was cast and why it was effective we need at least to look back to the 1990s when the CCTV camera gold rush began in earnest.
A key catalyst was the manufacture of consent - the government, assisted by its trusted media, went on a charm offensive to create support for CCTV cameras. Despite the fact that the technology was untested and they therefore had no evidence in support of their claims, they promoted cameras as a magical solution to fix all of society's ills.
Central government funding and the creation of the CCTV myth
In the 1990s the central government invited local councils to bid for funding in a series of "competitions" called "City Challenge". Shortly after the announcement of one such funding round in 1994 the Home Office published a guidance document entitled 'CCTV - Looking out for you' . 'Looking out for you' was promoted as a code of conduct but it also laid out the blueprint of how to sell to the public the myth of CCTV as a faultless crime fighting machine:
"Many crime prevention measures are remarkably effective for the first year or so, as offenders become less confident in the changed circumstances. The influence of these measures then fades as their familiarity increases. Think through what you might need to do to sustain the impact of CCTV. Publicity is now believed to be crucial to maintain the effectiveness of many crime prevention measures."
[Page 15, 'CCTV Closed Circuit Television - Looking out for you', Home Office 1994]
In other words the Home Office told local authorities to talk up any apparent successes of CCTV cameras – so if a camera was in any way mentioned in the process of a crime investigation, publicise this so that a perceived influence of the cameras is sustained. What is never mentioned is whether the camera actually played any real part in the investigation and whether a low tech solution would have sufficed. Alternative and real solutions to problems are ignored in order to promote the use of camera technology.
This method of manufacturing consent was incredibly successful – to the degree that despite the fact that cameras had no significant effect on crime people clamoured for their introduction. Politicians, who had made sure cameras were considered a vote winner, were all too happy to oblige.
CCTV whistleblower and the agenda of self interest
In 2003 the former Project Manager of the Glasgow CCTV scheme, John Mackay revealed  how once public support had been won there appeared to be no way back:
"Glasgow City Council knew about the strong public support for the system and was therefore fully aware of the political problems that would be caused by pulling the plug on it. This situation was described as a form of entrapment by the senior council officer - 'public opinion supports it and we must agree with this.'"
[Page 5, 'Multiple Targets: the Reasons to Support Town-centre CCTV Systems ', David Mackay ]
Mackay also revealed the way in which the Home Office funding scheme was used to drive a policy from the centre whilst dressing it up to look like local decision making:
"central government funding is used to coax local authorities to carry out a political programme. The SLGIU [Scottish Local Government Information Unit] describe the availability of central government funding as a 'perverse incentive' for local authorities, that can be used as a lever for bringing in additional outside funding. They consider this to be a common theme in local government and it is done mainly because of the political plaudits it earns locally."
[Page 4, 'Multiple Targets: the Reasons to Support Town-centre CCTV Systems ', David Mackay ]
Mackay explained that cameras were not installed to protect people but out of "self-interest on the part of the supporters" , in other words to meet the needs of those funding the projects – social control, protecting business interests, the theatre of being seen to be doing something to address a growing fear of crime. He found that cameras were presented as part of regeneration with claims that they would provide a 'feel-good' factor, prevent crime, create economic prosperity and even jobs!
Interestingly, whilst politicians and the media busily drummed up public support for CCTV cameras the police were not yet even aware of its PR value, as revealed by film director Chris Petit :
"in 1993, I visited a City of London police station to ask if I could scrounge some surveillance footage for our film. It turned out they hadn't even bothered to unpack their equipment, because no one knew how to set it up and they weren't sure of the point of it anyway. In exchange for plugging it in and showing them how to tilt and pan, I was allowed to walk off with a wedge of footage that they considered to be of no value."
['Smile, honey, you’re on candid camera', New Statesman, 21st May 2010]
Now the police have joined the chorus of CCTV camera cheerleaders and a public fed on a continuous diet of pro surveillance propaganda seems unable to grasp the dreadful impact on their freedoms thanks to an insatiable lack of desire to seek the truth. We'll just have to keep poking them with the truth stick. Poke.
- [ 1] 'CCTV Closed Circuit Television: Looking out for you', prepared on behalf of the Home Office by Philip Edwards & Nick Tilley, published November 1994
- [ 2] 'Multiple Targets: the Reasons to Support Town-centre CCTV Systems
', David Mackay
, Crime Prevention and Community Safety: An International Journal, vol 5, issue 3
, July 2003
- [ 3] 'Smile, honey, you’re on candid camera', New Statesman, 21st May 2010
For more info see www.no-cctv.org.uk