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Mr Jolly gives pro-CCTV committee something to think about - 28/3/2011

On Thursday (24th March) Birmingham Against Spy Cameras and No CCTV campaigner Steve Jolly appeared before the Public Bill Committee [1] on the 'Protection of Freedoms Bill' [2]. Steve pulled no punches, making it clear that those of us who care about the erosion of freedoms caused by expansion of the surveillance cameras network see little to celebrate in this Bill.

Steve was called alongside Andrew Rennison, the Forensic Science Regulator and Interim CCTV Regulator.

Steve Jolly at the Bill Committee Video of Steve Jolly's evidence can be viewed at:
http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=8042
(Fast forward to to 02.24.00 for start of session)

A transcript of the session is at:
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmpublic/protection/110324/pm/110324s01.pdf

Steve's written evidence is online at:
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmpublic/protection/memo/pf20.htm

Steve also submitted written evidence [3] to the Committee in which he points out that: "Much of what is contained in the Bill or the Code of Practice consultation can be found in previous Home Office guidance or the 2007 National CCTV Strategy." The National CCTV Strategy was introduced by the previous government and contained 44 recommendations; the appointment of Andrew Rennison as head of the National CCTV Strategy Board [4] (notionally named Interim CCTV Regulator) was the first of these recommendations.

When Rennison was appointed, the then Minister of State for Crime and Policing (David Hanson) stated that one of Rennison's six key areas of work would be to "develop national standards for the installation and use of CCTV in public space" [5]. By coincidence, this is one of the key areas on which the code proposed by the Bill focuses.

When the Committee asked Steve whether the proposed CCTV code of practice would be a welcome step forward he told them:

The code of practice is really an enabling Act which facilitates the proliferation and expansion of the use of surveillance cameras. It is concerned mainly with technical standards to do with compatibility and networking of systems. As described in the code, it is designed to be an A to Z manual of how to get the most out of your camera systems. It does not appear to have anything to do with protecting the rights of the individual. There is nothing in there about protection from surveillance.

When the MP for South Swindon, Robert Buckland tried several times to suggest that certain clauses of the Bill might contain provisions that cover "at least some of the concerns" that Steve had raised, Steve pointed that a 1994 Home Office guidance document called "CCTV: Looking Out For You" [6] took a more measured view of the use of surveillance cameras, he told the Committee:

There is more cautionary information in this document from 1994, which warns about the potential negative impacts on society that CCTV may have. It points out the drawbacks and the extent to which it can often fail to live up to expectations. So this document from 17 years ago is much more measured than the Bill we see before us today.
[...]
We seem to have gone backwards in our thinking since then. The technology has advanced dramatically and incredibly rapidly, but the thinking on how to govern the issues of personal privacy and personal freedoms has not moved with it. In fact, if anything, it has gone backwards.

For instance on page 15 of the 1994 guidance under the heading 'Will CCTV create any problems?' it states:

  • Be aware of the need to avoid the risk of CCTV simply moving crime to another part of your area.[...]
  • Take care that the installation of CCTV will not reduce the vigilance of otherwise active citizens.[...]
  • Be careful that the installation of CCTV will not produce an exaggerated sense of security amongst vulnerable members of the community.[...]

The Protection of Freedoms Bill calls for a CCTV code of practice which the Association Of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) indicated that they support when they appeared before the Committee last Tuesday (22nd March) [7]. An October 1994 Independent newspaper article [8] about the 1994 guidance document shows how little has changed:

The new report will push for the introduction of local codes of practice to ensure new systems are used effectively and that due concern is paid to issues of public confidence, civil liberties and security matters. The Association of Chief Police Officers also supports the introduction of local codes of practice.

There has been little evidence since 1994 that the voluntary codes of practice in use by local authorities or the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) voluntary CCTV code of practice have been effective in protecting civil liberties, and it is hard to see how another voluntary CCTV code of practice 17 years later will protect freedoms.

Public opinion

In his written evidence Steve points out that parliamentary discussion of surveillance cameras rarely gets beyond the hackneyed cry of parliamentarians that "it's what the public wants!", he wrote:

The constant cries of MPs that their constituents want more CCTV not less means that no meaningful debate ever takes place. Most MPs seem to see surveillance cameras as an easy win to gain support. This only fuels the support of CCTV that is so often proclaimed, but when the public is asked whether they support CCTV why are they never asked whether they would still support it if it did not do what was claimed? With surveillance technology advancing fast it is surely the duty of parliamentarians to get informed and in turn to inform the public of the facts and dangers of camera surveillance.

Steve goes on to reference the failings of the most recent Select Committee inquiry that looked at surveillance, the 2008-9 Constitution Committee's 'Surveillance: Citizens and the State' [9] which did not consider the Campbell Collaboration's 'Effects of Closed Circuit Television Surveillance on Crime' [10] evaluation. In his evidence before the Committee Steve expanded upon this:

It is a great shame that that report, which was highly significant in illustrating the ineffectiveness of CCTV, was missed by the Lords Constitution Committee and its report into citizens and surveillance. The Campbell Collaboration report came out just after the Lords debate and report but it would have had a huge impact on the Lords report because its key finding was that: "CCTV schemes in city and town centres and public housing [...] as well as those focused on public transport, did not have a significant effect on crime". That was not just a one-off in the research; it echoed and reinforced much of the research that preceded it.

He went on to point out that:

There is a huge gulf of disparity between the public perception of CCTV and its actual capabilities. CCTV has been promoted by successive Governments because, for whatever reason, it has been seen as either a generally good thing for society or a popular thing for MPs, councillors and Ministers. I do not think it has been driven by factual reality. If we are going to consult the public, we need to ensure that the public are properly informed, not misinformed.

Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras

Steve successfully fought a campaign last year against hundreds of cameras installed in Birmingham as part of 'Project Champion' [11] - many of the cameras were Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras. In his written evidence Steve highlights the worrying way in which the ever expanding ANPR camera network has been constructed - without any primary legislation, statutory instruments and with no public or parliamentary debate. There have been many calls from many quarters to address concerns raised by this network including from the Chief Surveillance Commissioner in several of his annual reports [12], Steve points out that the Bill fails to address these issues:

Section 29(6) of the Bill inserts ANPR cameras along with CCTV into the definition of surveillance cameras - as if this powerful nationwide surveillance network has always been an accepted part of our national infrastructure. Can this really be seen as a measure that addresses the many concerns about ANPR and the lack of proper debate in its expansion throughout the UK?
 
The national ANPR network is the biggest surveillance network that the public has never heard of. ACPO has also rejected transparency regarding the location and positioning of these cameras.
 
The government has failed to address the concerns about ANPR cameras concerns raised by the Surveillance Commissioner, and the wider public including those that fought the Project Champion cameras in Birmingham.

Royston's "ring of steel"...

Steve was asked by the Committee whether there are any other large-scale systems like Champion that have been implemented anywhere with interesting parallels, Steve told them:

Recently, Royston in Cambridgeshire installed a ring of steel of ANPR cameras. I do not know exactly how many cameras it installed, but it has encircled the town with them. This seems to be a worrying trend. As I said, one of my fears was that that would become the norm. There is also the village of East Stoke in Nottinghamshire, which has been awarded an ACPO "Secured by Design" award. Despite the village having only 50 houses and almost no crime, it has been surrounded and saturated with ANPR and, I believe, CCTV cameras in an effort to completely eliminate crime. The assistant chief constable there said, "This is not about reducing crime, but about providing confidence and reassurance to the residents." We have even lost sight of the purpose of surveillance. We just seem to have come to believe that it is a wonderful thing and that if we only had more of it, we would have a better society, and I think we have it the wrong way round.

For more information about the Royston "ring of Steel" and the Business Improvement District (BID) behind the scheme see the following links:

For more information about the village of East Stoke that has been awarded Secured By Design status by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) see:

Conclusions

The so-called Protection of Freedoms Bill is not really about protecting us from the expanding surveillance camera network - it appears to be about protecting the state's freedom to surveill. Below are a few suggestions of things you can do to express your disappointment in the Bill. Ultimately though we need to remember that most decisions are still made at a local level and so we must continue to campaign against blanket surveillance locally by attending council meetings, lobbying councillors and starting an informed debate. Do not wait for MPs to roll-back the surveillance state - we must do it ourselves.

Write to the Committee

The Protection of Freedoms Bill Public Bill Committee is open to receive written evidence up until the end of the Committee stage on Thursday 17th May. Submissions should be emailed to scrutiny@parliament.uk, guidance on the format of evidence can be found on the parliament website.

Take part in the CCTV Code consultation

The Home Office has launched a consultation on a 'Code of Practice relating to Surveillance Cameras' [13] as proposed in the 'Protection of Freedoms' Bill. The consultation closes on 25th May.

See http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/consultations/cons-2011-cctv/ for more details. The code currently focuses on "standards and efficiency" of CCTV rather than protection of freedoms. No CCTV will publish more information on the consultation shortly.

Write to your MP

You may wish to write to your MP [14] about the CCTV provisions in the Protection of Freedoms Bill, here are a few things you might want to include:

  • that the Bill in relation to CCTV is not about protection of freedoms it is about standards and efficiency!
  • that the Bill contains little detail of the proposed CCTV Code of practice which will be developed without proper scrutiny - as the Law Society told the Committee on Tuesday 22nd March [15]: "There is a very limited opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of those codes, and it seems to us that there ought to be a proper debate about where the balance should be and what those codes should contain."
  • that a Royal Commission into surveillance cameras is urgently needed that takes into account the failings of CCTV as well as the harm that cameras have done to society and the sort of world that we will create if we simply continue to increase the levels of surveillance. (The call for a Royal Commission was contained in the Liberal Democrat's original 'Freedom Bill' [16].)
  • that rather than a Surveillance Camera Commissioner as proposed in the Bill who will simply manage "standards and efficiency", we need a Privacy Commissioner with a far wider remit

Endnotes:


Posted in Anti-CCTV general - 28/3/2011

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