A recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request published on the web reveals details of Hounslow council's "Promise 10" - a plan to spend £1.8 million of residents' money on a new CCTV network. A promise that looks a lot like a threat.
Hounslow council has a plan that they describe as "a single vision of what needs to be achieved by 2010 for all communities in the borough". The Hounslow Plan 2006-2010 is laid out in a document called 'Building Pride Borough Wide'. Like many councils around the country Hounslow want to "transform" the area they govern. They aim to do this by implementing the plan, which they describe to residents as "our 'contract' with you, the residents, businesses and partners of the Borough". The plan contains ten promises. Promise Ten states:
10. Introduce CCTV to more parts of the Borough.
Incredibly, Hounslow has put CCTV expansion in their top ten list alongside investing in parks, libraries and leisure centres, planting trees, weekly rubbish collection and building affordable homes. The 'Building Pride Borough Wide' document states:
You want local taxes used wisely and invested in improving local services, local facilities and the quality of life for all Borough residents, wherever they live and whether young, old, part of a family or single.
Surely Promise 10 contradicts the council's vision of wisely invested local taxes. Study after study has shown that CCTV is not an effective crime fighting tool. Now is the time to acknowledge that the hundreds of millions of pounds of public money wasted on CCTV could and should have been better spent. Now is the time to give back to law abiding residents the freedoms that were taken away by the introduction of surveillance cameras. Now is not the time to upgrade cameras and expand surveillance networks. Hounslow council does not agree.
A 5th May 2009 report on Promise 10 by Hounslow councils's Lead Member for Community Safety states:
The Council has agreed to commit £1.8million towards this promise [Promise 10]. £770K has already been allocated for 2009-10. To begin to fulfill the promise a community safety CCTV control room needs to be built and cameras sited in areas of the borough where incidence of crime per capita is the highest.
In 2007 members of the London Assembly obtained information about surveillance cameras in the London boroughs along with crime clear up rates. It was revealed that Hounslow had 482 CCTV cameras at that time and a crime clear up rate of 21.4%. Hillingdon had just 137 cameras and a crime clear up rate of 22.5%. What the figures showed was that more CCTV cameras don't lead to a better crime clear-up rate. These findings seems of little consequence to Hounslow council as they prepare to sink yet more money into cameras.
The Promise 10 report goes on to describe the capabilities of the cameras that Hounslow council are considering installing:
- Automatic number plate reader (ANPR). This could be installed on the cameras on the borough's main thoroughfares and on some of the portable cameras. This assists police in identifying vehicles that are of interest, and therefore enhance proactive operations,
- Facial recognition. This could be used in the town centers [sic], particularly so where they are hotspots for criminal activity. Like ANPR, it will assist in identifying both subjects of interest to Police and partners.
- Thermal imaging. This could be used on fixed cameras in parks and open spaces and some of the portable cameras. This will clearly assist in searches of open spaces for suspects and missing persons.
- Speaker enabled. This could be added to town centre cameras. Trials and use show that when operators communicate through speakers to suspects that they can diffuse situations and prevent crime. Speakers can also provide a greater sense of security for pedestrians and those alone. Any audio capabilities will be one way only i.e. Operator enabled only
Hounslow council clearly has no regard for the freedoms or civil liberties of local residents and tax payers. ANPR and facial recognition cameras allow the tracking of individuals. When linked to databases - such as the DVLA database or in the case of facial recognition cameras perhaps in the future they could be linked to the planned National Identity Register - they become automated checkpoints that remove the right to anonymity and treat everyone as a suspect. Speaker enabled cameras undermine a sense of community by replacing mutual self policing with faceless camera operators barking orders at people. The Hounslow plan uses the PRIDE acronym made up of People, Respect, Improve, Dialogue and Empower. How can a surveillance grid like the one they want to construct be about pride or respect. It is about distrust, disrespect, fear and control.
Of course Hounslow council says that this is what residents want and the report even offers some reassurance for those that might not be so keen on total surveillance:
The vast majority of the residents of Hounslow are used to seeing CCTV cameras in a variety of locations across the borough and following presentation at the initial stages of this project, most are very supportive of the idea. To mitigate against individuals/groups that are not in favour of CCTV systems, consideration will be given to clearly marking the cameras as `community safety cameras', and have a contact number available for these wishing to enquire as to ownership and purpose. This will also ensure compliance with the CCTV Code of Practice issued by the Information Commissioner.
How an earth does Hounslow council think that putting a sign up that says `community safety cameras' will allay the concerns of those opposed to the surveillance state? Clearly they, like many other councils and public bodies, do not understand the fundamental objections to surveillance technologies.
We urgently need to reassess the use of CCTV cameras in the UK. Councils should have to present a coherent proven need for cameras backed up with evidence of their effectiveness. The public should be made aware of the shortcomings of surveillance cameras before the new generation of cameras further erodes our freedoms.
No CCTV will continue to offer a counterbalance to the one sided CCTV evangelism that still dominates public discourse and assist residents who want to challenge surveillance cameras in their communities - and that is a promise!