Polling day has finally arrived in the UK and like the 2008 US elections the favoured buzz word is "change". But when it comes to the surveillance state is anything really likely to change? The media would have us believe that the three main political parties offer us a choice but upon closer inspection they all look the same.
The BBC website featured a bizarre item last week entitled 'Do CCTV and the DNA database make us safer?' . The article is accompanied by a video of a press conference at which New Labour politicians Alan Johnson (Home Secretary), John Denham (Communities Secretary) and Peter Mandelson (Dark Lord) spoke about their desire to push ahead with CCTV cameras and the retention of DNA of innocent people (contrary even to a European Court of Human Rights ruling).
The press conference demonstrated that New Labour are either convinced that the surveillance state is a vote winner or they are determined to present it as the only option. To do this Johnson attempted to paint a picture of the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties as airy fairy civil libertarians, as though supporting civil liberties was the new "Communism". Johnson said:
If you look at where the Tories are, they're where David Davis left them. David Davis had a very libertarian view to these issues, so they're kind of saddled with the Haltemprice and Howden campaign that David Davis fought, which David Cameron joined him in, talking about the surveillance society. Cameron in a recent speech I saw, once again criticised ID cards, DNA database and CCTV as part of this surveillance society, and there is a real - I mean leave the Lib Dems to one side who have opposed CCTV both locally and in parliament - there's a real sense with the Conservatives, that this issue about 'Big Society', that we all walk into the sea and sing Harni[sic] Krishna is the way to tackle these problems [...]
In 2008 Davis resigned over the issue of the proposed 42 day detention without trial, but in his resignation speech he spoke of the "slow strangulation of fundamental British freedoms by this government" and he did raise the issue of CCTV. However when Davis went on to campaign for re-election he backed off on the CCTV issue and merely suggested the mainstream consensus view that more regulation is needed. In September 2009 the Conservative party published a report entitled 'Reversing the rise of the Surveillance State'  which made no mention of surveillance cameras despite the fact that they are the cornerstone of the surveillance state. The BBC article points out that:
The Conservative Party has now said that it supports CCTV which is a "valuable tool in the fight against crime". However it also says that 80% of cameras don't provide clear enough evidence for prosecutions because of their poor image quality.
In other words the Conservatives are happy to follow the agenda laid out in the National CCTV Strategy to expand the UK's surveillance network - using the excuse that the cameras simply need upgrading. So, no different to the New Labour policy.
As for the Liberal Democrats, the claim that they "have opposed CCTV both locally and in parliament" is ludicrous. Firstly when has CCTV in the UK ever been debated in parliament? And at a local level the Lib Dems, like New Labour and the Tories, have seen CCTV as a vote winner. During the election campaign we were contacted by a constituent in Watford who had received a leaflet from his local Lib Dem candidate. He told us that the leaflet:
trumpets the local Lib Demsí achievement in installing CCTV in The Broadway, Watford, a piece of "good news" and an "improvement", as the area had been "identified as a possible anti-social gathering spot".
The unimpressed constituent sent the leaflet back to the Liberal Democrats with a letter saying (amongst other things):
I do not know what is meant by a potential "anti-social gathering spot". The area is a "social gathering spot" and very good it was too. Now with the installation of CCTV it can never again be a social gathering spot.
Last year the Liberal Democratic party published a "Freedom Bill" . One of the proposals in the Bill was for a Royal Commission on the use and regulation of CCTV - as if another inquiry into CCTV were needed, when study after study has shown that it is not an effective crime fighting measure. If such a Commission ever took place it is highly likely that it would conclude that 80% of cameras suffer from poor image quality (and should be upgraded) and that more regulation is needed - in line with the National CCTV Strategy and the same policy as the Labour and Conservative parties.
The fight against cameras as we have consistently pointed out is at the local level, a point not missed by New Labour. Back at the Press Conference the New Labour three stooges once again announced the "new power for people to petition their local authority for more CCTV" - a policy that they have announced several times in the past few months, and as we have already pointed out elsewhere with relation to this "new power" (the last time it was announced, by Mr Brown himself) :
people already have it - it's called local democracy. People can attend local council meetings or lobby local councillors (as No CCTV and other groups around the UK have done). Council meetings are open to the public and the minutes are publicly available. Brown says that along with the power to request more cameras the local authority will have "a duty to respond". Surely they already do have a duty to respond to the local tax payers, so why is Brown codifying something that already exists?
Surely the journalists in the room would pick New Labour up on the fact this power already exists, and ask why it is that demanding CCTV is being proposed as a right but demanding its removal is not. An 'Evening Standard' journalist showed just how investigative the British media is when he asked:
You say that you're going to give people the right to petition on CCTV but surely that's a meaningless right unless there's money, real funding behind that pledge. Do you have that money allocated?
Oh dear, not exactly Pulitzer Prize winning stuff. Communities Secretary Denham seized the opportunity to lay out the skewed logic that such policies are built upon. He told the reporters:
What we will ensure through this is that people who are concerned about these issues in local communities can make sure it is fully, properly discussed and considered in local authorities and any reasons given for not doing it have to be set out in public.
If only the introduction of surveillance cameras around the country had been "properly discussed and considered in local authorities" and any reasons given for installing cameras had been "set out in public", then perhaps more people would know the truth about surveillance cameras and we would not have needlessly traded our freedoms for nothing.
However the people vote, the surveillance state will continue to expand until enough of us realise that simply putting a cross in a box once every five years is not enough. The formation of a new government, whoever gets to be in it, will just mark the beginning of the next chapter in the fight to defend our freedoms.
[Interestingly, the media analysis group Media Lens have produced an excellent study on the absence of any choice between the three main parties and the media's complicity in covering this up - see Media Lens]
-  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/election_2010/parties_and_issues/8649321.stm
-  http://www.no-cctv.org.uk/blog/gordon_browns_cctv_expansion_election_pledge.htm
-  http://www.conservatives.com/News/News_stories/2009/09/Reversing_the_rise_of_the_surveillance_state.aspx
-  http://freedom.libdems.org.uk/the-freedom-bill/full-text-of-the-freedom-bill