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National CCTV Strategy - worryingly incomplete

We are still trying to understand the implications of the National CCTV Strategy document published by the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Home Office last week:- National CCTV Strategy October 2007 (.pdf 373Kb)

Unfortunately, whilst quite interesting, this document is incomplete in many areas, and must not be taken as the final word on the subject.

Some initial thoughts:

Astonishingly, neither ACPO nor the Home Office know even approximately how many CCTV surveillance cameras there are in the UK,let alone where they are, what they can see, how to contact the operators, the majority of which are in the private sector etc. They have not even bothered to commission any statistical sampling surveys to give quantitative estimates, on which to base their so called "National Strategy".

They are still relying on the 2003 guesstimate by Professor Clive Norris, of "4.2million CCTV cameras" and "monitored on CCTV 300 times a day" etc. soundbites

Why have they not bothered to collect and analyse some more recent,more accurate data ?

Despite this, the document hand wavingly talks about real time access to such private sector digital images, directly over some mythical communications infrastructure, without bothering to mention any costs, or security or privacy details.

The document does agree with what we have been harping on about for the last 12 years or so, that there needs to a coherent, legally enforceable set of minimum equipment maintenance and personnel training standards and regulations, and for CCTV surveillance systems.

There should be some form of registration or licensing of such systems, to stop the massive waste of police time, especially after a serious crime incident, whereby police resources have to be devoted to literally going door to door to try to find any CCTV evidence.

The report recommends a bigger role for the Information Commissioner to supervise CCTV, which is, of course, part of the current problem, since the ICO has no effective legal enforcement powers, a totally inadequate budget, and lots of other duties e.g. Freedom of Information etc. to deal with.

This appears to be a "shift the problem to somebody else" recommendation - with no willingness to contribute financially.

The report mentions that the advent of digital systems replacing analogue recorders and VHS tape, has made it difficult or impossible for some police forces, and certainly for many parts of the criminal justice system, to view the original quality images, due to the proliferation of incompatible recording formats
and even the current trend for non-standard proprietary audio visual equipment connectors.

The Home Office could have set and enforced some national technical standards which all CCTV equipment which they were subsidising had to meet, with which the manufacturers would have complied with, but the Home Office either could not be bothered to do so, or, just as likely, were secretly lobbied and manipulated by people with a financial interest in the status quo.

The press and media jumped on the vague estimate (which may or may not be true, there is no quantitative evidence in the report) that "80%" or "8 out of 10" CCTV images were either "useless" or "not good enough" etc. either for use in Court as evidence, or for identification purposes.

This obviously casts CCTV in a poor light, but, as with most things technical, this is literally not the whole picture, and there is no quantitative evidence for this in the report.

The Police and Home Office spin and claims, that CCTV is "useful" or "vital" etc,. in "tackling" crime, are equally unsubstantiated by any hard quantitative evidence in the report.

The other areas of technological concern to us at Spy Blog are barely mentioned or are completely absent from this "National CCTV Strategy" document e.g. Automatic Number Plate Recognition, which again the authors punt the huge security and privacy issues regarding, off to the overworked and deliberately weak Information Commissioner (Data Protection Act) and the even less effective Chief Surveillance Commissioner (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act).

"The Chief Surveillance Commissioner has seen your letter and has asked me to reply on his behalf. He notes your interest in these matters but does not think it appropriate to answer your questions"

The report claims that CCTV cameras which were originally installed by some local authorities or "crime prevention or detection" are being multi-tasked with other activities such as shopping crowd control and safety. or for lucrative parking fine enforcement instead of dedicated long term, directed surveillance of, say, known drug dealing areas, for purely Police purposes. What did they expect when they spun weasel words like Local Security / Safety Camera Partnership ?

We see the problem the other way around, in that systems which have been installed primarily for safety or traffic congestion management are now being quietly co-opted or subverted for police and national security mass surveillance purposes, without any proper debate or accountability or means to redress injustices e.g. the London Congestion Charge scheme, the implications of which are not examined in this "National CCTV Strategy" report.

See Home Secretary Jacqui Smith cripples the Data Protection Act regarding the London Congestion Charge ANPR Mass Surveillance scheme

There is no mention of Passive Millimetre Wave Radar or other "see under your clothes" imaging and other similar enhanced CCTV imaging technologies. such as "suspicious behaviour" recognition fits into the "National CCTV Strategy".

There is no mention of the millions of mobile phone and other digital cameras carried by the general public, or any sort of National Strategy for collecting and analysing the masses of such video or still footage which they may be able to contribute to an investigation.

All in all, a reasonably interesting report, but a totally inadequate document to form the basis for an alleged "National CCTV Strategy"


Even the idea of a "national CCTV strategy" seems somewhat sinister. I'm in favour of CCTV remaining largely privately owned and not part of some gigantic centralised government spying system. In this regard incompatibility between formats is something of a bonus, thwarting efforts at centralisation, although I realise that this won't remain the case for long.

One near term danger which I can foresee is that the government, in response to some terrorist outrage, might pass a law requiring all CCTV systems to be connected to a central national surveillance system. Unseen authorities would then be able to remotely view any privately owned camera at any time with minimal effort. In that case we really would be in the kind of world described by Orwell.

Wow, you people are going crazy with the cameras. Everyone is guilty before being a trial. Read "the Trial" by Franz Kafka & "1984" before they are banned. If you go out, you need to know where the hidden cameras are so you can avoid them. It might be tough, however, you can used a hooded jacket, big sunglasses, and try to wear something that blends in with the surrounding. If you want more info on finding hidden cameras, check out the choices we have on our site.

Christopher Winkler
EyeSpyPro - Provider of Spy & Surveillance Equpment

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