Insecure Beneath the Lidless Eye of Sauron ? - it is now time to license CCTV surveillance camera operators

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The Home Office, especially under NuLabour, is always scrabbling about with new legislation, and toying with unproven technological magic fixes to social problems.

Instead of grinding on with NuLabour's expensive, intrusive and ineffective against terrorists, centralised compulsory biometric identity database and ID card plans, and instead of hinting at a new "acts preparatory to terrorism" offence, rather than using the existing draconian Terrorism Act legislation, there is an area of legislation which the Government could be more usefully pursuing.

Now is the time for the licensing of public CCTV surveillance camera systems and operators.

It is self evident that the thousands of CCTV surveillance and spy cameras on the London Tube, on the Buses and in streets and buildings along the number 30 Bus route, were of no use whatsover in acting as a deterrent against this weeks's bomb attacks in London.

This is despite years of public taxpayers subsidies and endless propaganda campaigns such as the creepy "Secure Beneath the Watchful Eyes" campaign.

Secure_Beneath_The_Watchful_Eyes.jpg - or Insecure Beneath the Lidless Eye of Sauron ?

It is now two days since the bomb attacks. We doubt if the CCTV footage available to authorities has been analysed properely yet.

We doubt if all the available CCTV footage has even been identified yet.

Presumably the investigators are concentrating on what they already control in the Tube and Bus systems, and the large commercial systems that they are aware of, but eventually, every passenger on the Bus route 30 will also be considered to be a suspect until they are "eliminated" from the investigation.

It is at this point that the current lack of a regulated license scheme for CCTV camera surveillance systems is harming the hunt for the bombers.

The Bus bomb went off about 9.17am. By 10am the police should have been able to print out a list of CCTV cameras and the contact details of the operators along the Route 30, in order to contact them and to get copies of any tapes or hard disks that they are using, to preserve any possible intelligence or judicial evidence.

We do not want a repeat of the abuse of public CCTV monitoring, which occurred in two recent, still unsolved murder cases in South West London, of Amelie Delagrange and Marsha McDonnell, both of whom were recorded on Bus CCTV cameras, shortly before alighting and then being murdered a short distance away from the bus stops.

Instead of publicising images of an actual suspect, thy technology was abused to hunt down "witnesses" who almost certainly had no view of any potential attackers lurking in the area - it is almost impossible to see very far through a Bus window at night. None of this CCTV hunt for "witnesses" resulted in any arrests or in anyone being charged with either of these two brutal nurders, and the "witnesses", looked, to a casual obsever, as if they were "wanted in connection with a murder", when they of all people, actually had cast iron alibis, as they were still on the bus that had just dropped off the murder victims, being transported away from the murder scenes.

We do not want to see a repeat of this sort of behavior by the authorities, in a few weeks time, where possible "witnesses" who might or might not have seen a "terrorist suspect" boarding a bus etc. are hunted down, on the off chance, because they have been captured on CCTV, but have not yet come forward as witnesses, probably because they have not actually witnessed anything that they can now remember.

People overseas will be astonished to learn that there is a massive centralised database of television recivers, in order to finance the BBC via the controversial licence fee, which is ruthlessly enforced through a system of inspections and fines, but there is absolutely nothing comparable for CCTV cameras and monitors, which are allegedly installed for "the purposes of the prevention or detection of crime", in order to be exempt from the Data Protection Act.

Apart from not knowing where all the relevant available CCTV camseras are, without having to waste police manpower and , crucially, time after the event, by knocking on every door, ther eis the question of minimum standards of maintainance.

After every major terrorist incident, such as the Real IRA bomb outside the BBC White City complex, or the Soho/Brixton nail bombs, the Metropolitan Police end up advertising and appealing to operators of CCTV systems to do basic maintaince like cleaning the lenses and making sure that they were not re-using the videotapes too often. There is no legal requirement for the operators of CCTV systems to do so.

How long should CCTV video tapes or hard disk footage be kept for, before being wiped out and resused ? The NuLabour Government has been very prescriptive in its attempts, under the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001, to introduce volunatry / mandatory Data Retention for telecommunications or internet communications data, and is even policy laundering this sort of scheme through the European Union. Why have they not made any attempt to mandate that public CCTV footage should kept for, say a week before being overwritten or erased ?

There are various voluntary Codes of Practice which some of th epublically funded CCTV schemes try to obey, but there is no consistency or minimum standards throughout the country, where terrorists or criminals may operate.

CCTV cameras which invade our privacy, on the promise of a trade off
with security, should be operated under an enforcable central registration and inspection scheme. CCTV technology itself is relatively cheap and reliable, it is the large scale management of this technology which is badly lacking.

A centralised registration and licensing scheme , should not be used as the basis for building a centralised panaopticon, actually linking lots of disparate CCTV systems together in real time, literally as in George Orwell's 1984

"The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live - did live, from habit that became instinct - in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and except in darkness, every movement scrutinised."

N.B. Todays CCTV cameras use infrared technology and can see in the dark and can zoom in beyond normal human visual range, and no longer need a wired infrastructure, but can work over mobile phone networks. The video and audio signals can be processed electronically to automatically attempt to pick out your face from a database of suspects. There is even research ongoing into classifying "suspicious" behaviour automatically from video images. Such CCTV systems have already been linked to automatically fire military weapons systems

If NuLabour want to respond to the lessons from the 7th July 2005 attacks in London, then they should legislate and fund such a public CCTV surveillance licensing and inspection scheme, instead of wasting money on expensive and unproven technology like biometric ID databases or Passive Millimetre Wave "see through your clothes" scanners etc.

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Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Insecure Beneath the Lidless Eye of Sauron ? - it is now time to license CCTV surveillance camera operators.

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We have already commented at great length on how the vast number of CCTV surveillance spy cameras in the United Kingdom do not actually make us any safer e.g. "Insecure Beneath the Lidless Eye of Sauron ? - it is... Read More

Bully Watch London is another, no doubt worthy scheme,, which is using CCTV surveillance metaphors in its creepy advertising campaign with posters at London Underground stations etc. Why is the crowd of bystanders with their heads replaced by CCTV came... Read More

Brendan O'Neill has written a good article in the New Statesman: "Watching you watching me" concentrating on CCTV surveillance cameras and schemes in the UK. The article gives a glimpse of the sophisticated CCTV system in central London operated by... Read More


The Observer reports

"However, the investigation has been set back significantly by the discovery that the closed circuit television camera in the number 30 bus, which exploded on Tavistock Square 56 minutes after the tube blasts, had not been working since June, a senior security source has admitted. Investigators are combing images from thousands of CCTV cameras mounted on buses or at stations in the hope of identifying the bombers.",16132,1525481,00.html

Just throw the ring back into the fire and all will be right with the world again, right?

Here's an American view (New York Times) on the London CCTV menace:

Re: my last post. You have to register (free) with NY Times to view the article. In case you don't want to register, here's the text in full. I particularly agree with the last sentence of the article.

Cameras in Britain Record the Criminal and the Banal

Published: July 23, 2005
The cameras of the London Underground never sleep.

Yesterday, the London police released images of four men they were "urgently" seeking in connection with the attacks on Thursday.

The images showed four men in subway stations and on a bus shortly before detonators on four bombs went off, though the bombs themselves failed to explode.

The police did not identify the men, but Assistant Police Commissioner Andy Hayman said, "It is crucial that detectives are able to question them about yesterday's events."

How did the images appear so quickly?

"It's very easy," said a spokesman for the London transportation system, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under British civil service rules. "We have 6,000 cameras across the network," with 9,000 planned by 2010. About 1,800 are installed in London's train stations, and some on its buses as well.

They constitute a small portion of the estimated 4.2 million closed-circuit television cameras, or CCTV, across the country. It is commonly estimated that the average Briton crosses the line of sight of a security camera 300 times each day.

The result is that when the attacks occurred, cameras were recording. The network is moving toward all-digital recording, said the spokesman, with some of the images stored on hard drives, some burned onto DVD's and some on videotape. All of the images from the day of the attacks in their various formats were gathered and given to the police.

A spokeswoman for the London police, who also asked that her name not be used under the same civil service rules, said no high-tech wizardry, like facial recognition software, was used to examine the video record for images of suspicious-looking young men with backpacks.

"We certainly had lots of CCTV to look at," she said, but "we had lots of officers" to look at the video. "People are drafted in," she added, though she declined to say how many.

The video sentinels were originally proposed to prevent crime according to the theory of the panopticon of Jeremy Bentham, the 18th-century philosopher. The panopticon was a prison designed to keep the inmates under constant scrutiny, which would theoretically reduce bad behavior because of the likelihood of getting caught.

In modern Britain, the cameras have proved more useful as a tool for investigating crimes, because no one can keep up with the millions of hours of video recorded daily, said Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University who specializes in privacy and has studied the British surveillance system.

"The fact that the bombers struck in the most heavily surveilled city in the world, the city with more CCTV cameras than any other, reminds us of the chilling but obvious truth: suicide attacks, are by their nature, very difficult to prevent," he said. "Nevertheless, the London bombings suggest that cameras may be one of many useful tools in investigating attacks after the fact."

The National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, a crime prevention charity in Britain, published a study in 2002 that said the growing network of cameras was not as effective in reducing crime as its proponents had claimed.

"The extent of CCTV coverage and the government's funding of new systems has increased dramatically over the last decade," the group wrote, "with very little substantive research evidence to suggest that CCTV works." The study suggested that low-tech measures, like money for better street lighting, could have a more pronounced effect.

Professor Rosen said the effectiveness of cameras, despite their popularity with governments, should be weighed against the benefits of measures like money for more police and intelligence officers. "Spain and Germany, after all, have identified suspects in major terrorist attacks without CCTV cameras," he said.

Another example of the apparent failure of CCTV surveillance where one would have expected it to have been available. - the shooting of the innocent Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell Tube station on the day after the July 21st attacks - apparently there is no CCTV footage available from the multiple cameras at the Tube station.,6903,1548808,00.html

With London Transport allegedly on a high state of alert after the July 7th bombs, why were the CCTV cameras at Stockwell Tube station not working on the 22nd of July ?

No mention is made of any CCTV on the No 2 Bus either.

There needs to be complete transparency about these issues, or else people will assume that the CCTV images are actually being covered up in case they are too embarassing for the authorities.

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About this blog

This United Kingdom based blog attempts to draw public attention to, and comments on, some of the current trends in ever cheaper and more widespread surveillance technology being deployed to satisfy the rapacious demand by state and corporate bureaucracies and criminals for your private details, and the technological ignorance of our politicians and civil servants who frame our legal systems.

The hope is that you the readers, will help to insist that strong safeguards for the privacy of the individual are implemented, especially in these times of increased alert over possible terrorist or criminal activity. If the systems which should help to protect us can be easily abused to supress our freedoms, then the terrorists will have won.

We know that there are decent, honest, trustworthy individual politicians, civil servants, law enforcement, intelligence agency personnel and broadcast, print and internet journalists etc., who often feel powerless or trapped in the system. They need the assistance of external, detailed, informed, public scrutiny to help them to resist deliberate or unthinking policies, which erode our freedoms and liberties.

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notes from the ubiquitous surveillance society - blog by Dr. David Murakami Wood, editor of the online academic journal Surveillance and Society

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Monthly Archives

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UK Legislation

The United Kingdom suffers from tens of thousands of pages of complicated criminal laws, and thousands of new, often unenforceable criminal offences, which have been created as a "Pretend to be Seen to Be Doing Something" response to tabloid media hype and hysteria, and political social engineering dogmas. These overbroad, catch-all laws, which remove the scope for any judicial appeals process, have been rubber stamped, often without being read, let alone properly understood, by Members of Parliament.

The text of many of these Acts of Parliament are now online, but it is still too difficult for most people, including the police and criminal justice system, to work out the cumulative effect of all the amendments, even for the most serious offences involving national security or terrorism or serious crime.

Many MPs do not seem to bother to even to actually read the details of the legislation which they vote to inflict on us.

UK Legislation Links

UK Statute Law Database - is the official revised edition of the primary legislation of the United Kingdom made available online, but it is not yet up to date.

UK Commissioners

UK Commissioners some of whom are meant to protect your privacy and investigate abuses by the bureaucrats.

UK Intelligence Agencies

intelligence_gov_uk_150.gif - Cabinet Office hosted portal website to various UK Intelligence Agencies and UK Government intelligence committees and Commissioners etc.

Anti-terrorism hotline - links removed in protestClimate of Fear propaganda posters

MI5 Security Service
MI5 Security Service - links to encrypted reporting form removed in protest at the Climate of Fear propaganda posters

syf_logo_120.gif Secure Your Ferliliser logo
Secure Your Fertiliser - advice on ammonium nitrate and urea fertiliser security

cpni_logo_150.gif Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure
Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure - "CPNI provides expert advice to the critical national infrastructure on physical, personnel and information security, to protect against terrorism and other threats."

SIS MI6 careers_logo_sis.gif
Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) recruitment.

Government Communications Headquarters GCHQ

Serious Organised Crime Agency - have cut themselves off from direct contact with the public and businesses - no phone - no email

Defence Advisory (DA) Notice system - voluntary self censorship by the established UK press and broadcast media regarding defence and intelligence topics via the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee.

netcu_logo_150.gif National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit
National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit - keeps a watch on animal extremists, genetically modified crop protesters, peace protesters etc.
(some people think that the word salad of acronyms means that NETCU is a spoof website)

Campaign Button Links

Watching Them, Watching Us - UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign

NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card
NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card and National Identity Register centralised database.

Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.
Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.

FreeFarid_150.jpg - Kafkaesque extradition of Farid Hilali under the European Arrest Warrant to Spain

Peaceful resistance to the curtailment of our rights to Free Assembly and Free Speech in the SOCPA Designated Area around Parliament Square and beyond
Parliament Protest blog - resistance to the Designated Area restricting peaceful demonstrations or lobbying in the vicinity of Parliament.

Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans
Data Retention is No Solution - Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans.

Save Parliament: Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)
Save Parliament - Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)

Open Rights Group

The Big Opt Out Campaign - opt out of having your NHS Care Record medical records and personal details stored insecurely on a massive national centralised database.

Tor - the onion routing network
Tor - the onion routing network - "Tor aims to defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal anonymity and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security. Communications are bounced around a distributed network of servers called onion routers, protecting you from websites that build profiles of your interests, local eavesdroppers that read your data or learn what sites you visit, and even the onion routers themselves."

Tor - the onion routing network
Anonymous Blogging with Wordpress and Tor - useful Guide published by Global Voices Advocacy with step by step software configuration screenshots (updated March 10th 2009).

Amnesty International's campaign

BlogSafer - wiki with multilingual guides to anonymous blogging

NGO in a box - Security Edition privacy and security software tools

Home Office Watch blog, "a single repository of all the shambolic errors and mistakes made by the British Home Office compiled from Parliamentary Questions, news reports, and tip-offs by the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs team."

Reporters Without Borders - Reporters Sans Frontières - campaign for journalists 'and bloggers' freedom in repressive countries and war zones.

Committee to Protect Bloggers - "devoted to the protection of bloggers worldwide with a focus on highlighting the plight of bloggers threatened and imprisoned by their government."

Icelanders are NOT terrorists ! - despite Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling's use of anti-terrorism legislation to seize the assets of Icelandic banks.

No CCTV - The Campaign Against CCTV


I'm a Photographer Not a Terrorist !


Power 2010 cross party, political reform campaign


Cracking the Black Box - "aims to expose technology that is being used in inappropriate ways. We hope to bring together the insights of experts and whistleblowers to shine a light into the dark recesses of systems that are responsible for causing many of the privacy problems faced by millions of people."


Open Rights Group - Petition against the renewal of the Interception Modernisation Programme