The Rise of CCTV
from SchNEWS Issue 232, Friday 15th October 1999
'The time has come to remind the villains that we are there. Use the cameras to search the street for likely looking individuals...zoom in and out, look for faces, potential suspects, potential victims, move the camera around from time to time to let them know you're alert"
- Police Memo to Camera Operators.
The camera never lies. Maybe not, but according to a new study into the rising tide of survelliance in the UK camera operators, police, politicians and the media lie as regularly about CCTV as Clinton under oath.
'The Maximum Surveillance Society - The Rise of CCTV' shows how CCTV evidence is being suppressed and distorted by those in charge of the UK's Big Brother spy camera technology.
Based on 600 hours of research from CCTV monitoring rooms, findings showed 'suspect targets' most likely to be filmed were "disproportionately young, male, black and working class". Black men were twice as likely to be filmed as white men, women were often tracked by camera operators for the 'titillation factor', and if you wear a puffa, designer trainers and drive a flash car - more likely that not - you've been framed.
Several instances of CCTV operators turning a blind eye to some of the worst scenes of 'Police, Camera, Actual Bodily Harm' were also recorded. One off duty copper was filmed coming out of a nightclub shouting racist crap at three black men. When a fight broke out, 20 uniformed cops arrived and arrested two of the men, presumably letting their mate head off for his kebab. The footage was deleted and the police officer responsible never prosecuted.
Other reported incidents included an operator zooming in and catching a police officer "punching a young man inside a police van". On another, a man and woman were tracked from the moment they left a nightclub, identified as 'suspects' and later picked up and arrested for 'breach of the peace' when the woman stopped for a piss in a doorway. In both cases the camera operators either missed the record button or were busy looking for bra straps through the monitor.
But it's not just the camera operators and police that are busy fuzzing the picture. The first investigation in '95 by the Home Office, was based on information taken from police, local authorities and private secunty companies. In Birmingham, the report said, crime levels were up three times from when CCTV was first installed. So to avoid embarrassment, when Home Secretary Howard announced a £15 million package for city centre CCTV in November 1995, he censored the Birmingham chapter and released the report in the media 'low' between Xmas and New Year.
New Labour's track record on distorting the digital picture is as equally impressive. A two year study commissioned by the Home Office released on July 15th, 1999 demonstrated that CCTV does not reduce crime. The research showed that, in Glasgow, crime had increased by 9% over the first year, and also risen in Wales.
Yet these findings - virtually unreported in the national press - did not stop Home Secretary Jack Straw announcing a £170 million package for installing CCTV systems over the next 3 years - enough for 40,000 cameras. There are over 500,000 CCTV cameras in operation in the UK today, and the surveilance industry is worth £2 billion a year.. When no one is watching the watchers, who can say where CCTV footage goes? At a rape trial in Nottingham earlier this year the suspect was cleared after the defence counsel discovered a tape which proved the man's innocence. The police had not disclosed the footage as evidence (Guardian 15/7/99).
Local councils are using CCTV to put entire residential neighbourhoods under surveillance, with the footage collected as evidence to prosecute and evict 'anti social elements'. In Hull, private detectives were hired by the local council to install covert cameras inside the home of a suspected drug dealer on the Bransholme Estate. The edited highlights were eventually shown in court and the person evicted. In Newcastle's West End estate there are 15 'vandalproof' spy cameras monitored by a single 'dedicated' police operation room. And in Wolverhampton, education budgets for books have instead been splashed out on a flash 16-strong camera network to watch out for evil crack dealers in the playground.
While the UK is fast moving towards the 'Maximum Surveillance Society' the technology remains vulnerable to human error. Tapes are accidentally erased, networks fail and shit happens. Under the 1998 UK Data Protection everyone has a right to access data and digital images that is held on them - be it bank records or CCTV footage for the cost of a tenner. So if you think you'Ve been recorded on CCTV by some pervy policeman without your permission then it might be worth looking into.
See sophisticated database of facial images being set up in Britain
"The Maximum Surveillance Society' - Norris & Armstrong, Berg Publishers, 1999.
UK Data Protection Registrar, Wycfiffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire,SK9 5AF. Web site www.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts1998/l9980029.htm
Privacy International P0 Box 3157, Brighton, BN2 2SS. Web site www.pnvacy.org