The National CCTV Strategy, published in 2007, has started to move into its implementation phase. In May documents were published on the Home Office's crime reduction website that show the recommendations within the strategy have been assigned to a number of National CCTV Strategy Board subgroups tasked with implementing the plan.
When the strategy was published it received little attention outside the CCTV industry. Mainstream media only picked up on the statement in the strategy that:
Anecdotal evidence suggests that over 80% of the CCTV footage supplied to the police is far from ideal, especially if it is being used for primary identification or identities are unknown and identification is being sought, for instance, by media release.
[National CCTV Strategy, 2.2.2. Picture Quality, page 12]
What the media missed was that such statements were being used to upgrade and expand the surveillance network in the UK.
The National CCTV Strategy was produced by the Home Office and Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) but the implementation phase, like ANPR, is being carried out by the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) which was created in April 2007 under powers in the Police and Justice Act 2006, according to the NPIA website "to make a unique contribution to improving public safety". The agency's objects and powers are laid out on Schedule 1 of the Police and Justice Act. Incredibly the legislation was passed with a clause that gives the "Power to modify objects, functions and structure of the Agency" to the government - no further act of parliament or proper debate or consultation required, just on the nod by an order (secondary legislation).
In November 2008 police, politicians, local authority managers and the CCTV industry met at a conference in Newcastle Marriott Hotel entitled 'The National CCTV Strategy – Where Are We One Year On?'. The event was "aimed at anyone with a responsibility for managing CCTV security or management requirements", so the great and good of surveillance didn't have to put up with ordinary members of the public who might have some reservations about the amount and capability of cameras in the UK.
In his keynote speech Garry Parkins, a National CCTV Consultant with the NPIA, told delegates that the government had confirmed that, as laid out in the strategy, they were going to establish a National CCTV Board "to create a mechanism for all CCTV systems to register core information and meet approved standards". The National CCTV Strategy Board as it is now called has echoes of the National Coal Board or the National Grid. In 2002 Professor Stephen Graham of Durham University wrote a paper 'CCTV: The Stealthy Emergence of a Fifth Utility?' in which he said:
It can be argued that CCTV looks set to follow a similar pattern of development over the next 20 years, to become a kind of 'fifth utility' . Coverage seems set to extend towards ubiquity, to become more multi-purpose, to be regulated nationally, and to adopt standardized technologies. Every murder, school break-in or terrorist act further intensifies the spiral of demands for ubiquitous surveillance
Graham however did not think that one central body would drive this new "fifth utility" forwards when he wrote:
However, it is unlikely that some single, national CCTV system will develop in the model of the water boards or gas boards of the post-war era in Britain. Since their privatization, UK utilities are now made up of a myriad of competing private companies covering different areas, offering different services and geared to different niche markets.
Now the National CCTV Strategy Board is looking very much like the central organisation that will steer CCTV policy in the UK, giving guidance to police, local authorities and Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships. It is however unlikely that we will see a new regulator set up to handle complaints about CCTV under the model used for the other utilities as 'OFFCAM' may be viewed by policy makers as presupposing an outcome that they do not want to see.
The Newcastle conference press release also pointed out that "A phase of consultation with the CCTV industry and end-users was critical to forming a framework for national registration and standards". Note that consultation is between the police, the CCTV industry and end users - once again no ordinary members of the public spoiling things.
In November 2007 No CCTV produced a report criticising a proposed CCTV scheme in East Oxford. As part of that report we looked at the National CCTV Strategy. Amongst other things we highlighted:
The Home Office raise the issue of a network of CCTV systems: "Consideration should also be given to the police, with the consent of individual users having limited and prescribed network access to smaller CCTV systems, to allow them to investigate crimes carried out against those users, in their own premises, such as investigating a robbery at a local shop, or a burglary at a commercial premises." (Strategy p 35)
Plans are laid out for the use of a CCTV network in conjunction with other databases to allow data-matching/mining and profiling: "It is hoped, in future, as technology is developed, that such a network will allow the use of automated search techniques (i.e. face recognition) and can be integrated with other systems such as ANPR, and police despatch systems to further increase the effectiveness of CCTV." (Strategy p 36)
Future surveillance camera trends are laid out: "the search continues for the panacea of CCTV; systems capable of Automated Picture Analysis, Person Identification, and Behavioural Analysis. Research still continues, and some applications have emerged, with limited success." (Strategy p 40)
The report turns again to integrated systems: "The greater convergence also allows once separated systems to be integrated. For example: [...] Town centre cameras connected to ANPR systems[...] Transport system cameras to travel cards" (Strategy p 40)
Rather than engage in a public debate about such proposals the Home Office is ready to push ahead with more surveillance: "The next stage of this work will be in the form of a 12 month implementation phase which will prioritise and develop the recommendations" (Strategy p 53)
Many of our warnings are now becoming a reality, and weak assurances such as that there is "no intention to create a national image database" [Newcastle conference press release] cannot mask the momentum towards Total Surveillance in the UK.
The National CCTV Strategy laid out 44 recommendations. These have now been divided over five National CCTV Strategy Board subgroups:
- Group 1 - Standards
- Group 2 - Establishment of the National CCTV Body and Registration Scheme
- Group 3 - Police Use of CCTV
- Group 4 - Facilities in the CJS [Criminal Justice System]
- Group 5 - Partnerships and Resources
For instance Group 1 is tasked with implementing recommendation R2.6: "Establish technical requirements that will allow CCTV cameras to be used for multiple purposes" whilst Group 4 with recommendation R8.7: "In the event of a guilty plea there should be the capability for CCTV evidence to be played in court where this may assist in determining an appropriate sentence".
Some recommendations we are told have already been delivered such as R6.3: "Evaluate ‘camera to archive’ network access and data archiving methods", whilst the use of Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (created under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998) to drive CCTV expansion forward with minimal recourse to ordinary members of the public - something we have seen happening - is enshrined in recommendation R10.5: "Primacy in relation to CCTV should be determined at a local level by the CDRP, taking into account the strategic guidance provided by the strategy and the National Strategic Board". Furthermore the use of CCTV in pubs and new developments is contained in recommendation R3.5: "CCTV should be considered as an element of planning and licensing applications".
Why is this agenda moving forward without question or proper debate? How has such an expansion of surveillance policy come to be in a strategy document produced by the police rather than an Act of parliament where it would be subject to some (though probably not much) parliamentary scrutiny? Why has no consultation of the wider public taken place before this surveillance agenda is introduced? Under what powers/acts of parliament is this strategy being introduced? Is it not ultra vires for the police to be driving this agenda which rides roughshod over democratic processes?
Police and politicians will no doubt justify the lack of scrutiny and consultation by claiming that CCTV is popular with the public. But what they fail to mention is that this is because the public have been told that CCTV works, and most have not seriously thought about the freedoms they have given away for nothing in return. The NPIA who have been tasked with driving the strategy forward also part funded the recent Campbell Collaboration evaluation of CCTV which found: "the evaluations of CCTV schemes in city and town centers and public housing [...] as well as those focused on public transport, did not have a significant effect on crime". So why are they pressing ahead with this technology?
if the public want these CCTV cameras—and my ad hoc experience is that that is true—what is the correct response that those of us in public life, not least the Government, should give? Should we say, "If it is what they want, then it is what they ought to have even though it is not backed by any evidence at all"? Or is it our duty to educate them and tell them that they are wrong? [...] I certainly believe that if all CCTV cameras do is reassure you when you should not regard them as doing so, then someone ought to say to you, "Why don't you think about it a little bit and realise that you are mistaken?".
Lord Peston went on to answer the question "are we sleepwalking into the surveillance society?" with the answer: "We are already in the surveillance society. I very much hope that it is not irreversible".
It is time for the people of this country to wake up. The National CCTV Strategy represents yet another dangerous erosion of our freedoms. We must stop this agenda before it becomes irreversible. Attend local council meetings to question why they are investing in CCTV, write to your local paper, take part in radio phone ins, join a Neightbourhood Action Group (linked to Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships), talk to friends and family about the surveillance society, write to your councillors, write to your MP - let's start demanding respect for our freedoms and a halt to this expansion of surveillance cameras.
And finally write to the National CCTV Strategy Programme Team.
It's time to act - before it's too late.