The programme is part of the government's grand sounding plan 'Building Britain's Future' or BBF which they describe as "the action that the UK Government is taking to move the UK from recession to recovery and forge a new model of economic growth; restore trust and accountability to the political system through democratic reform and renewal; and modernise our public services and national infrastructure".
One of the bills within the draft legislation is the 'Policing Crime and Private Security Bill'. The bill even comes with its own motto - 'Fair rules for all' - that will no doubt "restore trust and accountability to the political system" and ensure that no-one suspects it might contain rules which are fairer to the state than the citizen.
The government says the bill will:
give guarantees to local people that they will have more power to keep their neighbourhoods safe, including the right to hold the police to account at monthly beat meetings, to have a say on CCTV and other crime prevention measures and to vote on how offenders pay back to the community.
Allowing people to have a say on CCTV sounds quite reasonable until you consider who currently makes decisions about CCTV installation - in the vast majority of cases it is local councils. So as things stand local people already have a say if they attend local council meetings or lobby local councilors as No CCTV and other groups around the UK have done. Council meetings are open to the public and the minutes are publicly available.
However in recent years the CCTV decision making power has begun to shift away from councils and drifted towards shadowy bodies such as Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (CDRPs) established under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. These partnerships are made up of police, councils, primary care trusts, fire and rescue services and usually some self selecting members of the community. They usually meet in private, most people are unaware of their existance and many do not publish minutes of their meetings.
How did the government sell these partnerships back in 1998? The government's 'Guidance on Statutory Crime and Disorder Partnerships' (Home Office 1998) states:
The Crime and Disorder Act provides the framework for a radical new empowerment of local people in the fight against crime and disorder.
Decisions about surveillance cameras should be evidence based. Cameras should only be installed where there is a proven need, where it can be proved that CCTV would be an effective use of public money and where the public affected is happy that the loss of freedoms is acceptable.
The government 'Building Britain's Future' document makes no such stipulations, instead it states:
we will build on the introduction of neighbourhood policing, the Policing Pledge, the ‘Engaging Communities in Justice’ Green Paper, and the ‘Justice Seen Justice Done’ campaign to set out clearly the full range of what people can expect from their local police and justice system, including:
• A right to support for community action – with CCTV where communities demand it, Community Crime Fighters and Neighbourhood Watch
[ - page 77]
Note "CCTV where communities demand it". Not where it would be appropriate or where evidence shows it might help. Instead the government want "communities", no doubt through Crime and Disorder Reduction partnerships or some such body to be allowed to "demand" cameras. Few people have given serious thought or conducted research into the use or dangers of cameras and their views on their effectiveness are shaped by a biased media and government spin. For instance page 79 of 'Building Britain's Future' states:
CCTV will continue to play an important role, deterring and detecting crime and helping secure convictions. Having spent almost £170 million funding nearly 700 CCTV schemes earlier this decade, we are now focused on improving their effectiveness through operator training, and giving local people more of a say on where they want to see additional CCTV coverage, but also giving them clearer ways to complain on the rare occasions where they feel it is excessive. [emphasis added]
So the government is claiming that CCTV has a role in "deterring and detecting crime and helping secure convictions" despite numerous studies that contradict these claims, including the recently released 'Effects of Closed Circuit Television Surveillance on Crime' by the Campbell Collaboration (part funded by the National Policing Improvement Agency) which states:
the evaluations of CCTV schemes in city and town centers [sic] and public housing [...] as well as those focused on public transport, did not have a significant effect on crime
The government's draft legislative programme does nothing to address the civil liberties issues relating to CCTV or the undermining of our Common Law rights. Instead it seeks to continue the expansion of surveillance cameras in the UK. Those of us who are concerned about the proliferation of cameras must act now to educate the wider public to both the dangers and the ineffectiveness of this technology and work to stop them from being taken in by promises of better consultation or regulation.