Earlier this week, Gordon Brown positioned Labour’s stance on “Law and Order” in order to label those who are more reflective as being “soft” on the issue. One of his arguments related to CCTV and I have to admit, in this regard, I am a “card carrying softie”.
The Prime Minister told the BBC that “There are of course some who think CCTV is ‘excessive.’ but they probably don’t have to walk home or take the night bus on their own at the end of a night out. For the rest of us, for ordinary hard working, decent people, the evidence is clear: CCTV reduces the fear of crime and anti-social behaviour”.
He continued “That is why this government has funded CCTV in nearly 700 town centre schemes over the last decade - and why in the coming months we are bringing in a new power for people to petition their local authority for more CCTV, with the authority having a duty to respond”.
So did Mr Brown refer to a report into the effectiveness of CCTV in Scotland published last December? It discovered (as has many other previously ignored reports on CCTV – see references below) that with respect to the 2,200 public space CCTV cameras in Scotland (the majority of which are controlled by local authorities) that.
• “There are no consistently applied information sharing protocols governing the access or type of data made available”.
• “There are no Scottish national guidelines governing the recording of incident management information captured on CCTV systems”.
• “There are over 350 people employed to manage and operate public space CCTV systems in Scotland. Most receive no formal training” (my comment : a possible breach of the Seventh Principle – surely?)
• “Very few authorities undertake comprehensive evaluations of the effectiveness of public space CCTV systems” (my comment: so how do you know the processing of CCTV personal data is not excessive?).
• “Over the period 2008 to 2010, the total cost of operating public space CCTV systems in Scotland can be expected to exceed £40 million”.
These figures explain why I am “soft” on CCTV. If we assume that CCTV surveillance in the UK is the same as in Scotland (and scale the Scottish survey results in proportion to the whole UK population using the approximately 12:1 ratio of populations - we are in effect assuming there is an average "CCTV surveillance per unit of population"), then we can gain an estimate of the public space spending on CCTV and the number of public space cameras run by local authorities.
Multiplying by twelve, we find that, in total, there is an estimated £480 million spent by mainly local authorities (every three years), employing 4,200 largely untrained staff who monitor 26,400 CCTV cameras that are not assessed for effectiveness and where any data sharing is haphazard at best.
Brilliant isn't it. I would have thought, in a recession, any politician who purports to manage public services in any efficient way would assess the effectiveness of the current spend on CCTV before committing to anything else. In addition, increasing detailed CCTV surveillance of the population in order to reduce the “fear of crime” (and deliver nothing else) is “pandering to paranoia” in my books.
Spoken like a “real softie”, I hasten to add.
References: “Public Space CCTV in Scotland: (December 2009): http://www.sccjr.ac.uk/documents/CCTVtog.pdf. Also see my analysis “CCTV and data protection – 2007” which focuses on ACPO’s CCTV strategy and OIC Code of Practice (downloadable from http://www.amberhawk.com/policydoc.asp).
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