Gordon Brown’s UK Election Pledge – More CCTV!

CCTVThis week the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, made it clear that he sees the expansion of the UK surveillance camera network as a vote winner in the coming general election [1]. Brown was in Reading delivering a speech on ‘crime and anti-social behaviour’, he said [2]:

CCTV and DNA are crucial.

There are of course some who think CCTV is “excessive”, but they probably don’t have to walk home or take the night bus on their own at the end of a night out. For the rest of us, for ordinary hard working, decent people, the evidence is clear: CCTV reduces the fear of crime and anti-social behaviour.

That is why this government has funded CCTV in nearly 700 town centre schemes over the last decade — and why in the coming months we are bringing in a new power for people to petition their local authority for more CCTV, with the authority having a duty to respond.

Now the opposition parties have campaigned against CCTV — our support for CCTV will be on the ballet paper at any coming election.

This section of his speech is so filled with inaccuracies and lies that it is worth breaking down line by line, but first it is worth mentioning that Brown was restating proposals laid out last June as part of the government’s ‘Building Britain’s Future’ (BBF) action plan [3] (see the No CCTV article on BBF — ‘Proposed bill contains CCTV expansion in disguise’ [4]). In fact his speech was an even more authoritarian reworking of the text on page 79 of the Building Britain’s Future report [5] which stated:

CCTV will continue to play an important role, deterring and detecting crime and helping secure convictions. Having spent almost £170 million funding nearly 700 CCTV schemes earlier this decade, we are now focused on improving their effectiveness through operator training, and giving local people more of a say on where they want to see additional CCTV coverage, but also giving them clearer ways to complain on the rare occasions where they feel it is excessive.

Let us now look a little closer at Brown’s Reading speech.

“CCTV and DNA are crucial” …

In one simple phrase Brown casts aside research commissioned into the effectiveness of surveillance cameras and DNA, ignores the costs, ignores the civil liberties concerns and claims that these technologies are “crucial”. What he also does rather sneakily is link CCTV to DNA – part of the move towards presenting CCTV as a “forensic science”. In December the government appointed Andrew Rennison (the Forensic Science Regulator) to the post of ‘Interim CCTV Regulator’ [6] – tasked with pushing ahead with the National CCTV Strategy [7] which lays out the path to the creation of this new “forensic discipline”. CCTV is not a science, it is nothing more than an eye-witness and open to interpretation. Shoehorning CCTV into the field of forensics is likely to lead to longer retention periods for CCTV images and an even greater misplaced faith in the value of surveillance cameras.

Brown is of course, like all politicians, well aware of the misplaced faith in cameras and is quite happy to exploit it to win votes.

“There are of course some who think CCTV is ‘excessive'” …

Brown next turns his attention to those of us opposed to the massive surveillance network that has been created and is ever expanding in the UK. He fends us off not with facts, not with studies that show the value or cameras, not even with reassurances that our privacy will be safeguarded. No, Brown uses an emotive fear based argument to brush aside our concerns, after all those against surveillance cameras “probably don’t have to walk home or take the night bus on their own at the end of a night out”. It is unclear how Brown imagines we do get home, perhaps he presumes we don’t go out. He certainly seems to think that walking home or taking a night bus are dangerous acts that only the watchful eye of Big Brother can protect us from.

Back in the Building Britain’s Future document released last June the government talked of giving people “clearer ways to complain on the rare occasions where they feel it [CCTV] is excessive”. This is now replaced with a suggestion that only those who don’t go out at night or don’t use night buses are against surveillance cameras. A thought that when deconstructed does not make any sense at all but which is designed to press the fear button and encourage dependence on the state.

“the evidence is clear” …

Having masterfully cast aside the loonie, stay at home, night bus averse, anti-cctv mentalists, Brown now turns his attention to “the rest of us, for ordinary hard working, decent people”. So now he is adding to the growing list of attributes that describe people against surveillance cameras – they are also lazy, work shy and immoral. Everyone else is like our glorious leader a decent person and that is why they can see that “the evidence is clear: CCTV reduces the fear of crime and anti-social behaviour”.

Note that Brown has backed away from earlier claims in the Building Britain’s Future report that CCTV can deter, detect and solve crimes and now focuses on the suggestion that CCTV reduces the fear of crime. Presumably Brown makes this switch because it is once again an emotive claim and one that has not been addressed directly in mainstrean coverage of the surveillance state. In fact research into CCTV suggests that it increases the fear of crime. In 2008 the Joseph Rowntree Foundation produced a report entitled ‘Why are fear and distrust spiralling in twenty-first century Britain?’ [8]. The report states:

mounting evidence shows that private security and CCTV does not reduce fear of crime or actual crime and might in fact increase crime. According to a study funded by the Scottish Office in Glasgow, there was no improvement in feelings of safety after CCTV was introduced, while the area studied actually showed an increase in crime. The author concluded that the “electronic eye on the street” threatens to erode the “natural surveillance” of “mutual policing” by individuals and represents a retreat from “collective and individual responsibility to self interest and a culture of fear”.

The author of the Joseph Rowntree report, Anna Minton went on to produce a book ‘Ground Countrol – Fear and Happiness in the Twenty-First Century City’ [9] which expands on the issue of fear in the UK today. In a recent Guardian article [10] (‘Expect the drones to swarm on Britain in time for 2012’, The Guardian 22nd Febuary 2010) Minton wrote:

There is no evidence that CCTV reduces crime, but there is research, including a study commissioned by the government, which reveals that it increases distrust between people and promotes fear of crime.

An article in the Local Government Studies journal [11] (‘Towns on Television: Closed Circuit TV Systems in British Towns and Cities’, Vol.22, No.3, pp.1-77, 1996) also points out that CCTV does not in fact reduce the fear of crime.

CCTV may actually undermine the natural surveillance in towns and communities […] the result may be a further spiral of social fragmentation and atomization, which leads to more alienation and even more crime.

A 2005 Home Office study, ‘Assessing the impact of CCTV’ [12] (Home Office Research Study 292), which like many many other studies found that CCTV is not an effective crime fighting measure stated:

the majority of the schemes evaluated did not reduce crime and even where there was a reduction this was mostly not due to CCTV; nor did CCTV schemes make people feel safer, much less change their behaviour.

But Brown skillfully ignores all of this, after all only work shy, immoral, stay at home, night bus averse, anti-cctv mentalists believe any of these reports. Honest decent people don’t let facts get in the way of emotions.

“this government has funded CCTV in nearly 700 town centre schemes” …

Having shown that CCTV is the best thing since night buses, Brown is now ready to show just how much money his government has wasted – oops, sorry invested into surveillance cameras. Last June in the Building Britain’s Future report it was claimed that the 700 schemes the government has funded over the last 10 years cost “almost £170 million”, but this only tells half the story. Data Protection experts at Amberhawk Training have done some back of the envelope calculations on the costs of CCTV in the UK [13]. Starting from the December 2009 Scottish Parliament report ‘Public Space CCTV In Scotland’ [14] which states that: “Over the period 2008 to 2010, the total cost of operating public space CCTV systems in Scotland can be expected to exceed £40 million”. Amberhawk go on:

If we assume that CCTV surveillance in the UK is the same as in Scotland (and scale the Scottish survey results in proportion to the whole UK population using the approximately 12:1 ratio of populations – we are in effect assuming there is an average “CCTV surveillance per unit of population”), then we can gain an estimate of the public space spending on CCTV and the number of public space cameras run by local authorities.

Multiplying by twelve, we find that, in total, there is an estimated £480 million spent by mainly local authorities (every three years), employing 4,200 largely untrained staff who monitor 26,400 CCTV cameras that are not assessed for effectiveness and where any data sharing is haphazard at best.

So in fact many more hundreds of millions of pounds of public money have been sunk into cameras that don’t fight crime or even reduce the fear of crime – sorry that smacks of night bus hating again – the government has invested hundreds of millions that would only have been wasted on frivolities were it not for their wisdom to invest in CCTV.

“a new power for people to petition their local authority for more CCTV” …

So now Brown wants the “ordinary hard working, decent people” (who aren’t troubled by the facts about CCTV) to have a mechanism for getting more CCTV. As we pointed out last time Brown announced this “power”, people already have it – it’s called local democracy. People can attend local council meetings or lobby local councillors (as No CCTV and other groups around the UK have done). Council meetings are open to the public and the minutes are publicly available. Brown says that along with the power to request more cameras the local authority will have “a duty to respond”. Surely they already do have a duty to respond to the local tax payers, so why is Brown codifying something that already exists?

Maybe Brown is worried that as budgets get tight local authorities will start to realise that CCTV is a waste of money and may use what money they have to do something that might actually help their local communities. With this “new power”, if Brown can get the ill informed “ordinary hard working, decent people” to cry out for more cameras then local authorities will have to obey regardless of whether it’s a good idea or not.

This very issue was raised in a House of Lords debate last year [15]. Lord Peston, who as a member of the Constitution Committee considered the evidence presented to the ‘Surveillance: Citizens and the State’ inquiry [16], pointed out that:

if the public want these CCTV cameras—and my ad hoc experience is that that is true—what is the correct response that those of us in public life, not least the Government, should give? Should we say, “If it is what they want, then it is what they ought to have even though it is not backed by any evidence at all”? Or is it our duty to educate them and tell them that they are wrong? […] I certainly believe that if all CCTV cameras do is reassure you when you should not regard them as doing so, then someone ought to say to you, “Why don’t you think about it a little bit and realise that you are mistaken?”.

Brown clearly wants to ensure that decision makers cannot educate the public and tell them they are wrong when it comes to CCTV. If the public has bought the lie then the lie must be followed and no-one must be able to stop the lie.

“opposition parties have campaigned against CCTV” … !

Next Brown raises the evil spectre that he suggests could stop the lie – the opposition parties! This is quite the most ridiculous statement in Brown’s pro CCTV outburst. The suggestion that opposition parties are bent on stopping the CCTV lie is itself a lie.

At a local level where most decisions are made about the installation of CCTV politicians of all parties seem to think that surveillance cameras are a vote winner. By installing cameras they can be seen to appear to be doing something.

At the national level: in September 2009 the Conservative party published a report entitled ‘Reversing the rise of the Surveillance State’ [17] which made no mention of surveillance cameras despite the fact that they are the cornerstone of the surveillance state; whilst the Liberal Democratic party last year published a ‘Freedom Bill’ [18] which they say would restore civil liberties lost over the last two decades – one of the proposals in the Bill was for a Royal Commission on the use and regulation of CCTV. But calling for regulation of CCTV is simply the consesus view. Regulation does not address the core issues of removal of personal freedom, anonymity and other rights. All regulation does is to endorse acceptance of CCTV by formalising its “proper use” and leaving no room for the rejection of such technology.

There is effectively no political opposition to surveillance cameras in the UK. But that does not mean that the surveillance state cannot be reversed – as things stand decisions are still made at a local level and so it is up to the people of the UK to get educated and start demanding action from their local councillors. It’s all about numbers – if enough people demand the removal of CCTV they will have to get removing it.

Brown is so convinced that CCTV is a vote winner that he is willing to paint the opposition parties as some sort of evil defenders of civil liberties – when in fact they are nothing of the sort. The rabbit hole is deep in Brown’s warped world.

Stoking the fear of crime?

Much of the rest of Brown’s speech focussed on the fear of crime which he said was out of step with reality: “So these are the facts: crime down; anti-social behaviour down; but fear of crime and anti-social behaviour not down as much”. He even warned of: “those who spread fear with fiction”. He went on to say:

Because sometimes as damaging as the fear of crime is the crime of fear.

And I will play no part in that.

Yet wasn’t it Brown himself that suggested walking home or taking a night bus were dangerous acts? Brown also said:

So even as we halve the deficit I’m protecting frontline policing.

Because I know that the hard working majority will never be able to afford to live in a gated community or hire a private security firm, I am committed to a strong, modern police service for all – more visible in your community and more responsive to your needs and concerns.

Why would the hard working majority need to live in a gated community? Isn’t Brown pressing the fear buttons again?

Lost in translation?

So to summarise, Gordon Brown has launched the New Labour party’s general election CCTV agenda with the following speech (roughly translated):

We in the Labour party really love CCTV, only lazy night bus haters have a problem with the surveillance state but all obedient citizens know that the non-existant evidence clearly shows that covering the entire country with the paraphernalia of a dystopian lawless state reduces the fear of descending into dystopian lawlessness. That is why this government, like all others, has and will continue to use public money to remove freedoms from the public and we’re even going to give you all a new power – the power to demand that the state does what the state wants. Long live democracy! Vote for CCTV!

Rest assured, the battle against the surveillance state will not be fought at this coming election.

[ Note: This is not the first time Gordon Brown has been caught sexing up surveillance cameras, see ‘Brown sexes up CCTV evaluations’ at http://www.no-cctv.org.uk/blog/brown_sexes_up_cctv_evaluations.htm. ]


End notes:

Charles Farrier
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Charles Farrier

The UK is the most spied upon nation in the world - why doesn't it have the lowest crime rate?
Charles Farrier
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4 Comments on "Gordon Brown’s UK Election Pledge – More CCTV!"

  1. Hadrian999 | Mar 7, 2010 at 7:36 pm |

    perhaps to offset the cost the government can go into the paparazzi business,
    i mean who needs paparazzi when everyone is on camera all the time already.

  2. Ehhh.. i do understand the pros and cons of cctv everywhere, but fvck, i dont like cameras lol. like here, they built a skatepark for the kids finally, but spent half of the budget on cctv. just a bit much….

  3. Anonymous | Mar 10, 2010 at 10:42 pm |

    Great post, well researched and written! I find the fact that he stressed CCTV and DNA – two of the biggest invaders of our privacy – as extremely ironic, and rather brazen. They no longer have to hide the New World Order, we’ll welcome it in, with arms wide open, at the next polls! 😉

  4. anti_john | Mar 10, 2010 at 5:42 pm |

    Great post, well researched and written! I find the fact that he stressed CCTV and DNA – two of the biggest invaders of our privacy – as extremely ironic, and rather brazen. They no longer have to hide the New World Order, we'll welcome it in, with arms wide open, at the next polls! 😉

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