The Department for Transport is absolutely right to launch a consultation as to whether CCTV parking cameras should be banned. Rather than focusing on specific parking infringements councils have taken the brazen approach of using CCTV cars to indiscriminately spy on drivers.
Back in 2010 we reported on the rise of Drive By Spies, with 31 councils operating CCTV cars at the time. That number has now risen to more than 100.
This goes to the heart of what Big Brother Watch has been campaigning on – the public are never told that this is part of the deal when they accept greater CCTV surveillance. The rhetoric is always about violent crime, anti-social behaviour and catching criminals. Would the public be as accepting if they had the full facts about how cameras are used?
Whether in our reports or our submission to the consultation on the CCTV Code of Practice, we have argued for councils, and indeed all CCTV operators, to publish statistics on how cameras are used. How many arrests are made and how many lead to convictions? What sorts of offences are caught?
The rise in fines that many councils have collected clearly highlights that the CCTV cars are clearly not tackling the root causes of the problem. Academic research repeatedly highlights how poor a crime-fighting tool CCTV cameras are, yet councils insist on pouring more money into schemes for cheap headlines.
The use of CCTV cars is yet another example of how councils are constantly using surveillance as a lazy, quick fix to complex problems. Perhaps instead, councils should be focusing their efforts and resources on dealing with the parking problems that residents and drivers face daily, rather than using CCTV cars to punish drivers instead.
Ultimately, CCTV is never going to solve the fundamental problem of there not being enough parking spaces, and using cameras to catch out people who fall fowl of parking restrictions completely undermines public trust in the surveillance they have been told to accept to protect their own safety, not to fill council coffers and justify expensive CCTV systems. Big Brother Watch will be responding to the consultation and we hope that you will do the same.