Today’s Gloucester Citizen carries a remarkable story about “husband and wife councillors who watch CCTV of kids on their living room telly”.
As the paper reports, “Hardwicke Parish Council duo Fran and Lyn Welbourne have been so pro-active in monitoring the village youth shelter that they have the live footage beamed right into their home.”
It beggars belief that someone thought it appropriate to allow Councillors to have public CCTV of a youth centre piped into their living rooms.
These people are not trained employees, nor licensed CCTV operators. It smacks of taxpayer-funded voyeurism and will do nothing to actually tackle the problem that is causing concern. It would be more effective to have the councillors actually stood at the youth shelter, if they are so keen to keep an eye on what is going on.
As we have repeatedly highlighted, CCTV does little to deter or prevent crime, and at best displaces the activity a short distance.
Perhaps the Councillors should spend some of their evidently quiet evenings asking why there is a problem rather than indulging their new hobby of sofa snooping.
One in five councils have reduced the number of CCTV cameras on the streets since 2010, with some having no cameras at all. Cost should not be the reason for making decisions about the tools needed to keep the public safe. We have long argued for an approach based on community policing and the ‘broken windows’ experience from the USA. CCTV diverts resources away from efforts that have been proven to be more effective while increasing the blanket nature of public surveillance. Rather than just cutting cameras, how many councils are looking at what actually works to reduce crime?
Crime statistics from September 2012 showed that there had been an 8% decrease compared to the previous year’s survey; driven by significant reductions in vandalism, burglary and vehicle related theft. What is important is that crime is falling and the number of CCTV cameras is falling. Yet again the evidence demonstrates there’s – at best – a tenuous link and in reality no link between the number of CCTV cameras and crime levels.
The Freedom of Information request was submitted by Labour MP Gloria de Piero, of which 209 out of a total 326 local authorities in England responded to the request, 46 councils reported a reduction or have no “public facing” (not private cameras) CCTV cameras at all.
Southampton Council’s attempt to justify it’s policy of requiring taxis to record audio and video of every journey took another blow yesterday when the ‘First Tier Tribunal’ ruled against it.
The case stems from a complaint made by Big Brother Watch and others to the ICO, and led to Oxford council abandoning it’s policy and Southampton being given an ‘enforcement notice’ – essentially a prosecution for breaching the Data Protection Act.
As reported by the barrister’s chambers 11KBW, who acted for the Information Commissioner’s Office in the case, “what the Council disputed was (1) the conclusion that the policy involved the processing of “sensitive personal data” as well as personal data; and (2) the ICO’s finding that the recording and retention of audio data was a disproportionate interference with passengers’ privacy rights under Article 8 of the European Convention.”
On both points, the tribunal ruled against the council, saying the policy was disproportionate and accepting the risk of “function creep”.
With lawyers highlighting that this case sets an important precedent for surveillance and data protection law, we hope that in future councils will not be so quick to implement policies that so blatantly trample on the privacy of people without any kind of justification.
The only decision Southampton Council can now make is to abandon this ludicrous policy and we will be writing to them to demand they do so immediately.
Bored with playing the lottery? Like watching strangers on CCTV? We have found the perfect website for you. There is now a website that allows you to monitor CCTV footage.
The expansion of the website to the Australian ‘market’ means that internet users 12,000 miles away can access the footage from 200 cameras in the UK. The ‘service’, offered by Cornwall based company Internet Eyes, has around 8,000 subscribers who pay £1.99 a month or £15.00 for a year, allowing them to watch 10 minutes of footage at a time and to make five alerts a month when they believe they have spotted a crime. One stipulation of the subscription is that users are unable to monitor footage from cameras within 30 miles of their own location.. Prizes are offered of up to £250 a month for people who successfully detect shoplifting or other crimes taking place.
The website is a sad indictment of how out of control the British obsession with CCTV has become. Also, given the fact that users don’t know where the camera they are watching is located, it’s also impossible for them to raise an alarm with the police.
Clearly, this is sort of website is a deviant’s dream, giving armchair snoopers the ability to sit and watch CCTV footage from across the country at their leisure. The people watching these cameras have no training, no legal oversight and have to pay to use the service. We should be asking ourselves what kind of person volunteers to spend their time watching CCTV cameras in shops they have no connection with in the vague hope of winning a prize? It’s a pointless and perverted system that puts privacy at risk and it is baffling as to whether it is even legal.
In the past three years, 294 public organisations have faced action over their use of the database containing details of car registrations and driving licenses.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Big Brother Watch, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) disclosed that the organisations were overwhelmingly local authorities, but included Sussex Police and Transport for London.
They all had access suspended, while 38 organisations saw their access permanently revoked. Of the issues identified, 156 came about because of audits of the database use by staff.
Profit appears to trump privacy yet again, with some shops fitting secret cameras in mannequins to spy on customers’ shopping habits. The technology has been available for almost a year, and is already being used in three European countries and in the U.S.
The EyeSee dummy holds a camera behind its eyes which feeds images into facial recognition software that logs the age, gender and race of shoppers. This information is then used to provide retailers with information that can be used to improve their marketing strategies. The makers boast: “From now on you can know how many people enter the store, record what time there is a greater influx of customers (and which type) and see if some areas risk to be overcrowded. Read more
Big Brother Watch will be attending all three party conferences this year – here are the details of our events.
For the events at UKIP and Conservative conferences you will not need a security pass, however both the Labour and Liberal Democrat events are inside the secure zone.
Full details are below.
Based on data covering more than 2,000 secondary schools and academies, Big Brother Watch warns that there are more than 100,000 CCTV cameras in secondary schools and academies across England, Wales and Scotland.
With some schools seeing a ratio of one camera for every five pupils, more than two hundred schools using CCTV in bathrooms and changing rooms and more cameras inside school buildings as outside, the picture across the country will undoubtedly shock and surprise many.
To put into context the number of cameras, our research earlier this year found there are currently at least 51,600 CCTV cameras controlled by 428 local authorities.
The report, which you can download here, warns that the Home Office’s proposed system of regulation for CCTV cameras is not fit for purpose, with the newly created position of Surveillance Camera Commissioner having no enforcement or inspection powers.
Following our complaint to the Information Commissioner, last month Southampton Council was handed an enforcement notice for it’s policy of requiring taxis to record both audio and video of every taxi journey.
The council has now announced it will appeal the ICO’s action, despite the policy being branded invasive and disproportionate by a judge and the Information Commissioner saying it goes too far. For Southampton Council to fight in the courts for the right to record the conversation of every taxi passenger is madness.
Yet more public resources will be tied up defending a policy that has no grounding in rational thought or civil society. It’s another example of a council trying to steamroller surveillance through without paying attention to public opinion, privacy or in this case, the law.
After successfully challenging audio-CCTV in Oxford and Southampton, it has come to our attention that Doncaster is also pursuing audio recording in taxis.
Always-on audio recording means recording every minute of every conversation of every passenger. It is a disproportionate and intrusive policy that goes against data protection law and does little to address to the underlying threats to driver safety.
Needless to say we’ll be contacting Doncaster Council and the Information Commissioner about the scheme.
Taxi drivers should not be forced to install surveillance equipment in their cabs. Voluntary schemes and panic button systems would offer a solution to those drivers who feel their safety is at risk without forcing every cab to record passengers.
The ICO has published a CCTV Code of Practice to help local authorities and other organisations using CCTV to stay within the law. Sadly it seems an increasing number of local authorities are happy to disregard this as they pursue over-zealous surveillance policies.