NO CCTV - Frequently Asked Questions
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- How can you be against CCTV in public spaces, it is everywhere so it must significantly reduce crime, right?
- It has been crucial to solving several important murders and rape cases, hasnīt it?
- Most of the public supports CCTV so why campaign against it?
- Other countries use it too, donīt they?
- Does CCTV help solve crimes after the event?
- Can we trust the police, local councils or government with CCTV?
- What will the future hold for British society if we continue our video surveillance culture?
- Roadside ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras help solve car crime and detect drivers without insurance, donīt they? Isnīt this a good thing?
- Are CCTV and ANPR properly regulated?
- Surely if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear...?
1.How can you be against CCTV in public spaces, it is everywhere so it must significantly reduce crime, right?
Actually, no. Research reports show that the effectiveness of CCTV in reducing crime and convicting offenders is questionable at best. Study after study (see our reports page) has shown little or no correlation between cameras and crime prevention or detection.
2. It has been crucial to solving several important murders and rape cases, hasnīt it?
In the past the press has been quick to allege that CCTV footage has been used in the solving of high profile cases. CCTV images provide great copy for the media, increasing the emotional impact on the reader or viewer. The media will often claim that CCTV was crucial to a case when that is simply because CCTV footage exists. In reality it may well have had no bearing at all. The only way to know would be to consider the full transcripts of all criminal cases where CCTV is claimed to have played a role.
See our article on the manufacture of consent.
3. Most of the public supports CCTV so why campaign against it?
The public has been continually ill informed regarding the effectiveness of CCTV. The real facts are rarely aired in any arena and there has been little or no debate, either in the media or in parliament. Instead the public have simply been told by the press and politicians that CCTV works whilst yet more cameras are rolled out onto the streets, public transport and private/public spaces such as shopping malls, so that politicians can claim they are "doing something" to combat crime.
The shaping of public opinion has not included any discussion of the failings of CCTV; instead it has been led by media, police, government and the security industry, all of whom have been calling for more cameras on the basis of false promises.
4. Other countries use it too, donīt they?
Other countries do make varied use of CCTV, but nowhere to the same degree as the UK. The UK has the most surveillance cameras per head in the world and is the global leader in its use of CCTV technology. Surveillance measures introduced here have implications for the rest of the world, as they look to us as a 'liberal democracy'. Each advance in surveillance in the UK has the potential to filter around the globe - the companies producing such technology are rubbing their hands with glee but ordinary citizens are not.
5. Does CCTV help solve crimes after the event?
In 2007 members of the London Assembly obtained information under the Freedom of Information Act that showed CCTV has little effect on solving crime. The statistics show that more CCTV cameras does not lead to a better crime clear-up rate.
Read more about the crime clear up rate statistics [ here ].
6. Can we trust the police, local councils or government with CCTV?
Any population ought to be very cautious about what information it hands over and how much privacy it concedes to its government. The spectre of totalitarian governments looms large over recent European history, and it is within this context that the UK should have been very wary of creating a surveillance state. Sadly successive governments have slowly but surely increased the state's intrusive surveillance powers. We ought to be extremely concerned about how much trust we place in those whose role it is to serve us, particularly when they clearly have so little trust in us.
As Philip Dick put it in an interview for SF Eye magazine in 1996:
Any government which assumes that the population is going to do something evil has already lost its franchise to govern. The tacit contract between a government and the people governed is that the government will trust the people and the people will trust the government. But once the government begins to mistrust the people it is governing, it loses its mandate to rule because it is no longer acting as a spokesman for the people, but is acting as an agent of persecution.
(see SF EYE 14 1996)
7. What will the future hold for British society if we continue our video surveillance culture?
This was answered most succinctly by Julian Ashbourn in a 2006 article:
We shall find, in ten or twenty years time, that serious crime has risen yet further, terrorism will be more strongly embedded and law enforcement agencies will still be failing in their intelligence and ability to prevent such activities. Yet we, as decent citizens, will have sacrificed completely our rights to privacy and anonymity. This is a very serious matter.
('Biometrics and Privacy: A sacrifice worth making?', Julian Ashbourn, 'Biometrics' Times supplement, 31st July 2006)
Already this society that once prized itself on its internationally respected common law legal system, and at the heart of that system the concept of its people being innocent until proven guilty, has adopted a "forward intelligence" approach that treats everyone as a potential suspect.
8. Roadside ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras help solve car crime and detect drivers without insurance, donīt they? Isnīt this a good thing?
ANPR is a form of indiscriminate forward intelligence gathering which works by reading the registration plates of all cars as they pass fixed and mobile roadside cameras and then checking those plates against a database. Effectively a roadside checkpoint, commonly recognised as characteristic of a police state. Whilst the police may like to tell you that it's simply about spotting stolen or unregistered/untaxed vehicles and "suspicious" drivers, they record all vehicle movements regardless of any suspicion (let alone reasonable) and employ the services of data mining companies such as Northgate Public Services whose primary product:
allows users (not just analysts) to access the 2% of reads that result in hits, but more importantly, to access the 98% that offer intelligent leads. A senior investigating officer on a major crime will be very interested in that 98% because they will be able to say "don't tell me what I [k]now, tell me what I don't know".
['The ANPR Intelligence Dividend - Northgate BOF 2.3 Advanced Data Miner', p1]
Basically information about people who are not even suspected of any wrongdoing is being recorded just in case the police fancy making use of it.
To find out more about ANPR cameras download our report "What's Wrong With ANPR?".
9. Are CCTV and ANPR properly regulated?
Well, this is an interesting one.
Regulation does not address the core issues of removal of personal freedom, anonymity and other rights. All regulation does is to endorse acceptance of CCTV by formalising its "proper use", leaving no room for the rejection of such technology. We share the view expressed by Desmond Browne QC, former Chairman of the Bar Council, that in a country with a strong common law tradition it is the common law principles which govern protection of our privacy that we should all be working to uphold.
Plenty of regulation exists - the Data Protection Act, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, the Human Rights Act/Convention - as soon as the stated purpose, however viable, relates to crime, none of the protections apply.
10. Surely if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear...?
This common statement completely neglects the fact that in a democracy, particularly one supposedly governed by the common law, people have the right to anonymity and privacy, even in public places. To submit to this statement is to submit to ever closer scrutiny and intrusion into our every day lives, all on the basis of no suspicion and a requirement to prove one's innocence. In effect, it is subverting the fundamental principle of "innocent until proven guilty" and presuming that representatives of the state can demand anything of you with or without reason.