The surveillance state has failed

Big Brother Watch representatives have frequently been derided as kooky technophobes with an effete obsession with personal privacy when putting forward our critique of the surveillance state.

The lines deployed against us are so tired as to have become tedious.  “If it saves one life or solves one crime“, people say, “it’ll all be worth it.”  “If you’ve got nothing to hide“, champions of CCTV claim, “you’ve got nothing to fear.

If people had listened to our arguments more clearly they’d have noticed that our arguments about personal privacy, while important, have always been caged in the context of encouraging effective crime-fighting.

As the London burned in the early hours of this morning, Alex Deane outlined the wasteful way in which the scare financial resources our Police forces possess have been allocated to CCTV systems.

Late last year, Big Brother Watch conducted the first study of the true cost burden of CCTV to local councils in the United Kingdom.  Of the 342 local councils who responded to our information request, a total of £321,331,453.18 was spent on installing and operating CCTV cameras during the 2007 to 2010 period.

Hidden in the small print of the report was a crude calculation, based on the average starting salary of a Police Constable, as to how many officers could have been provided for the figure of £321 million.  The figure equated to 13,536 over three years – or more than 4500 a year.

The Home Secretary Theresa May issued a brief statement saying: “what robust policing means… is dealing with the disorder on the streets, but then following that through – looking at the CCTV footage.”  She is, of course, entirely correct.

The Deputy Mayor of London for Policing Kit Malthouse, whose illiberal instincts we have highlighted elsewhere, has gone on the record to praise the role CCTV is likely to play in bringing some of the violent thugs who have carried out these acts of wanton violence to justice.

Without doubt, there will be several (and it will be no more than that) cases where CCTV is crucial in securing convictions.

What the Home Secretary and Mr Malthouse prefer, though: the provision of an active and high profile Police force on the streets of major British cities which actually prevents crime, or complex CCTV systems which can only assist in solving crimes?  Prevention, at risk of sounding simplistic, is better than cure.

Advocates of CCTV and the surveillance state will argue that both methods should be deployed equally.  There’s merit in that argument and BBW would not for a minute seek to argue that all public CCTV cameras should be removed.  The financial reality of policing in the United Kingdom, however, renders a two-pronged approach to policing which mixes a visible police presence with cameras trained on every inch of public soil, impossible.

Choices have to be made; and Big Brother Watch wants bobbies on the beat, not a network of CCTV cameras.

The surveillance state has failed – and it’s time to admit it.

Posted by on Aug 9, 2011 in CCTV, Privacy, Technology | 11 Comments


  1. Jingleballix
    9th August 2011

    Just so.

    You’d think it’d be obvious.

    Solving crimes – what for? The bastards hardly ever get charged, and almost never get put away.


  2. Anonymous
    9th August 2011

    From Robert Peel’s 9 principles of policing. Now over 150 years old and still an utterly alien concept to modern policing.

    9.The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

  3. Cymro
    9th August 2011

    Don’t be daft. If CCTV coverage was reduced, where would all the (early) retired police get jobs?

  4. monty
    9th August 2011

    Yes to more bobbies on the beat. Yes to more CCTV around our city centres. You write-off the surveillance state too quickly. Let’s wait and see how many hundreds of rioters are prosecuted because of CCTV footage before we advocate throwing away the cameras.

  5. Anonymous
    9th August 2011

    Surveillance state UK and US, yet another violation of our rights. Add it to the list of gov’t violations of our rights:
    They violate the 1st Amendment by placing protesters in cages, banning books like “America Deceived II” and censoring the internet.
    They violate the 2nd Amendment by confiscating guns.
    They violate the 4th and 5th Amendment by molesting airline passengers.
    They violate the entire Constitution by starting undeclared wars for foreign countries.
    Impeach Obama, vote for Ron Paul.
    (Last link of Banned Book):

  6. Tristan Downing
    9th August 2011

    Let’s wait for the conviction figures from this riot. We have to be careful to discount privately owned CCTV and other methods of image capture otherwise we contaminate the evidence. How long will we have to wait?

  7. Outlier
    11th August 2011

    The local councils using CCTV to extort fines from motorists for minor traffic infringements would not agree.

  8. Week 2 Planning « Mr W's HIGHER ENGLISH
    21st August 2011

    […] The surveillance state has failed […]

  9. SoundAssassins
    16th October 2011

    Presumably you don’t know about the use of acoustic weapons. The type that modulate onto ultrasonic carriers that can target individuals, directly sending the signal into the ear. Well if you give idiots the domestic equavalent of nuclear bombs that evade detection, there will be horrendous abuse. It is very bad, it is out there and they work very hard to keep people in the dark about it.

  10. Stephen
    24th March 2012

    Failed ?
    We now have Secret technology that is being used as evidence in Secret Courts
    They can SEE what you are picturing in your mind and can HEAR what you are saying in your mind from a distance and can record it . They have an Army of Undercovers saying this and that out in the population and seeing what comes to mind, and have been for five to ten years..
    Look up Secret Courts “Secret Evidence”….. Welcome to the Xray State.

  11. “If You Ain’t Doin’ Anything Wrong, Then You Ain’t Got Nothin’ to Hide”, Tibet Edition | China Collapse!
    23rd June 2013

    […] footage will be applauded by many Britons, but the cost of each arrest is high. Big Brother Watch estimates that the more than 300 million pounds spent on installing and operating CCTV cameras between 2007 […]