The Manufacture of ”Surveillance by Consent”

NO CCTV – Anti CCTV Articles (Anti-CCTV general)International Group condemns Facewatch ”spot the criminal” wanted poster system – 9/6/2013

On June 8th 2013, the International Working Group on Video Surveillance (IWGVS) [1] issued a statement condemning Facewatch, the electronic wanted poster system used by UK businesses and police. Facewatch has also been launched in Australia and the United States. The statement was issued to coincide with 1984 Action Day [2] commemorating the publication of George Orwell’s novel ‘1984’, which was first published 8th June 1949.

Facewatch and the associated mobile phone App ‘Facewatch id’ is a CCTV image sharing system. Facewatch calls on members of the public to identify people in CCTV images relating to low level crimes. Images are also shared within corporate and local “groups” to alert members of the group of “potential criminal activity”. Facewatch is essentially a wanted poster social network, that trivialises crime fighting and asks the user to spend no more time identifying a person accused of a crime than “liking” a news story about their favourite celebrity.

In the past wanted posters were an extraordinary measure, used to highlight the most dangerous, prolific or otherwise notorious known criminals. Such practices date back to the wild west, where lynch mobs often hunted down such fugitives. More recently in the United States the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Ten Most Wanted List and associated posters have been used to draw attention to the most sought after fugitives since 1950. Facewatch reverses this practice and uses wanted poster for suspects of low level crime.

The IWGVS statement is as follows:

We, as concerned individuals and civil rights groups from around the world, call upon all those connected with the creation, promotion and use of the Facewatch crime reporting and image sharing system to cease and desist.

We believe that:

When evaluating a technology such as Facewatch, which allows for the creation and distribution of wanted posters, consideration must be given to the wider impact on society as a whole, not simply to legal compliance within narrowly defined, regulatory frameworks.

Facewatch and its associated App present images of suspects out of context, treat hearsay as fact and threaten the concepts of due process and innocent until proved guilty. Distributing images over the internet through such an App is using these images as entertainment and invites users to play “spot the criminal”.

Such a system will lead to cases of mistaken identity and defamation of character.

Facewatch forms part of a ubiquitous surveillance culture that spreads fear and distrust and is undermining an already weakened sense of community. A healthy society requires people to work together, to stand up for their beliefs and the beliefs of others, and to interact freely without being under constant surveillance.

People must be given the freedom to understand that it is only through the interactions between human beings that crime and other societal problems can be alleviated. Undermining these interactions, distancing people from communities, asking people to place blind trust in surveillance technology, wanted posters and pseudo-crime fighting Apps is rotting our communities.

The International Working Group on Video Surveillance is a group of individuals and civil liberties groups concerned about the impact of surveillance cameras on society. It was created at the Freedom Not Fear 2011 event in Brussels. The following groups/people are currently members of the IWGVS:

  • NO CCTV (UK)
  • AK VORRAT Hannover (DE)
  • AK VORRAT Frankfurt am Main (DE)
  • AK VORRAT Münster (DE)
  • Out of Control Berlin (DE)
  • AK VORRAT Hildesheim (DE)
  • AStA Universität Hildesheim (DE)
  • (BE)
  • Kassel Watch Log (DE)
  • Panoptykon Foundation (PL)
  • David Mery (


Posted in Anti-CCTV general – 9/6/2013

Landmark CCTV case in Australia – government seeks to change law to resume surveillance – 9/5/2013
This sign is under surveillance
Image by lonely radioLast week (2nd May), in the midst of Privacy Awareness Week [1], an Australian campaigner, Adam Bonner won a landmark decision against CCTV cameras in New South Wales [2]. The decision did not rule that the cameras in the town of Nowra should be switched off, but instead ordered the local council to stop breaching the Information Protection Principles of the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act. Remedies were suggested by the Privacy Commissioner but suffice to say Shoalhaven council has switched the cameras off whilst deciding its next move.

The decision of the Administrative Decisions Tribunal New South Wales ordered that:

1. The Council is to refrain from any conduct or action in contravention of an information protection principle or a privacy code of practice;

2. The Council is to render a written apology to the Applicant for the breaches, and advise him of the steps to be taken by the Council to remove the possibility of similar breaches in the future.
[SF v Shoalhaven City Council [2013] NSWADT 94, Orders]

The court victory is evidence once again that CCTV is a local issue which can be defeated when local people take action. In this case a single campaigner took on his local council, and won.

The Road to Victory

Back in late 2009, Mr Bonner saw an article in a local newspaper detailing Shoalhaven City Council’s plans to install 18 CCTV cameras in the Nowra Central Business District (CBD). Mr Bonner felt uneasy, he didn’t think it was right for CCTV cameras to watch and record him and others when they visited Nowra city centre to go about their lawful business. But he didn’t just wait for someone else to do something, he took action himself to defend his and other residents’ freedoms.

Over and above his instinctive reaction to the cameras, Mr Bonner found the many studies that show CCTV is not an effective crime fighting tool [3]. He asked the local council to conduct an internal review of conduct under the Privacy and Personal Information Act 1998 (PPIP Act) and he called on other residents to contact Shoalhaven council pointing out to them the many flaws of the CCTV scheme – he wrote:

There is also something very unsavoury about a society that puts more value on seeking retribution and revenge from the 4-5 per cent who offend, than on protecting the privacy and civil liberties of the 95-96 per cent who do not.

Unfortunately the council refused to conduct the review that Mr Bonner requested because they said the cameras were not yet operational – a claim that was later shown to be incorrect. The council did eventually conduct an internal review but, not satisfied with the outcome, Mr Bonner lodged an application with the Administrive Decisions Tribunal. After almost 9 months Council barristers told the Tribunal that the footage on which the case was based had been inadvertently deleted – and the case was dismissed. However Mr Bonner did not give up – he simply started the whole procedure all over again.

In 2011 Mr Bonner visited Nowra shopping centre on two separate occasions and obtained images of himself through the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (although the release of actual video footage was refused).Mr Bonner then once again asked for an internal review. The council this time claimed that the threshold for collection of personal information was not met and so dismissed Mr Bonner’s request. Once again Mr Bonner lodged an application with the Administrive Decisions Tribunal and the matter was at last heard over three days between May and August 2012.

Mr Bonner prepared his own written brief and represented himself in court – cross examining council staff, senior police and bringing in expert evidence from Dr Peter Kovesi and Professor Paul Wilson.

The tribunal decision published last week explicitly praises Mr Bonner’s conduct throughout the case, it states: “No criticism can be levelled at the Applicant in regard to the time taken in concluding the matter. He has been pursuing his rights under the PPIP Act since the Council commenced testing the system”. This is in sharp contrast to the criticism levelled at Mr Bonner by politicians, as we shall see below.

The Tribunal Decision

Mr Bonner argued that the Nowra cameras breached eight separate sections of the PPIP Act. The tribunal agreed with Mr Bonner with regards to three sections, namely section 10 relating to signage, section 11a relating to the relevance of personal information for the stated purpose and section 12c relating to security safeguards in place with regards to accessing images.

On section 10 the judge ruled:

The Council must take such steps as are reasonable in the circumstances to ensure that the Applicant was made aware of the information provided for by section 10. The fact that an individual might take steps to inform themselves of the details does not relieve the Council of the need to comply with section 10. In my view, the signage that is in place and other action taken by the Council has not been sufficient to ensure that individuals are “made aware of the implications for their privacy of the collection process, and of any protections that apply prior to or at the time of collection”.
[ADT Decision paragraph 158]

On section 11 the judge ruled:

In my opinion, the vast majority of the information collected under the Council’s CCTV program is ‘collateral information’ and is not relevant to the ‘crime prevention’ purpose. All of the Applicant’s personal information is ‘collateral information’ and is not relevant to the ‘crime prevention’ purpose. Further, there is no suggestion that Police made any use of the collected information for law enforcement purposes.
[ADT Decision paragraph 162]

The judge added:

The expert evidence suggests that CCTV does little to prevent crime. The data available for the Nowra CBD suggests supports [sic] the Applicant’s argument that the Council has not demonstrated that filming people in the Nowra CBD is reasonably necessary to prevent crime. In fact, available data suggests that since the Council’s CCTV program was implemented crime has increased in the Nowra CBD in the categories of assaults, break and enters and malicious damage.
[ADT Decision paragraph 164]

On section 12 the judge ruled:

I agree with the Applicant that the use of a generic password rather than an individual user name and password for each authorised user means that there is no way of checking who is and isn’t using the live monitor at the Nowra Police Station. There is no way of knowing whether those who are accessing the monitor have been appropriately trained. Section 12(c) provides that the agency ‘must ensure’ adequate protection of the collected information.
[ADT Decision paragraph 170]

An inspiration to those of us concerned by blanket surveillance

Mr Bonner’s tireless campaigning shows that we can fight back against surveillance state measures. Instead of being cowed into inaction by scaremongering media reports which paint the Big Brother State as unstoppable, he fought back. Whilst challenging the Nowra cameras under the PPIP Act Mr Bonner also regularly issued press releases, started a petition against the cameras, wrote letters to the local media and even found time to share his thoughts with campaigners around the world via the International Working Group on Video Surveillance (IWGVS) [4]. All of this whilst working as a farmer.

Mr Bonner is an inspiration to anyone who feels that the ever growing levels of blanket surveillance are just plain wrong. When you see injustice, don’t believe you can’t do anything about it, and don’t wait for someone else to do something about it, get out there and fight it yourself – you’ll be surprised how powerful you really are.

The Political Backlash

Alas politicians don’t like it when people try to defend their freedoms, and already the political backlash has begun. But we should not view this backlash as a negation of Mr Bonner’s victory, it is in fact a unique opportunity to see the motives of our political leaders. Under pressure from Mr Bonner’s campaign they have struck back wildly without bothering to sugar-coat their thoughts. Mr Bonner challenged the cameras under the statute that the politicians introduced – the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act. He used their statute to defend our freedoms and this has upset them. They seem to consider it outrageous that an individual would use their Act to protect every individual’s personal information or privacy. How on earth did he get it into his head that this Act was meant to do that?

Before the tribunal had even reached its decision, in October 2012 Shoalhaven Council submitted a motion at the Local Government Association conference calling on the Local Government Minister to amend the PPIP Act so that local councils could operate CCTV cameras without having to comply with the provisions of the Act that Mr Bonner had challenged [5]. The motion was not passed by the conference but was instead referred to the Association’s Executive Committee for further advice.

Since last week’s decision local politicians as well as those in the New South Wales parliament have been falling over themselves to condemn Mr Bonner and call for that change to the PPIP Act. What the politicians are saying is that they do not need to obey the law – because they make the law.

Somewhere along the way our political system has ceased to function in the way that its should, namely to defend personal freedoms. In 1766 Sir William Blackstone published the first volume of his influential ‘Commentaries on the Laws of England’ [6], in which he defined the absolute rights of man as the free enjoyment of personal security [not to be confused with the national security now used to curtail freedoms], of personal liberty, and of private property. Blackstone wrote:

For the principal aim of society is to protect individuals in the enjoyment of those absolute rights, which were vested in them by the immutable laws of nature, but which could not be preserved in peace without that mutual assistance and intercourse which is gained by the institution of friendly and social communities. Hence it follows, that the first and primary end of human laws is to maintain and regulate these absolute rights of individuals.

Blackstone further pointed out the dangers in any laws that restrict these absolute rights:

every wanton and causeless restraint of the will of the subject, whether practised by a monarch, a nobility, or a popular assembly, is a degree of tyranny: nay, that even laws themselves, whether made with or without our consent, if they regulate and constrain our conduct in matters of more indifference, without any good end in view, are regulations destructive of liberty

This week the New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell made a speech in the Legislative Assembly spelling out the position of the politicians [7]. O’Farrell’s speech epitomises the modern political ideology that has weakened individual freedoms and so it is worth quoting at length. O’Farrell claimed the tribunal’s decision was terrible:

because it was based on a complaint from one individual. One individual was put ahead of the concerns and interests of an entire community.

In fact Mr Bonner was defending the individual freedoms of all of the people of New South Wales not just his own. Further, as a community is just a group of individuals how could it be that it has more rights or freedoms than do those individuals?

Next O’Farrell bizarrely tried to compare defending freedoms to driving on the wrong side of the road when he said:

I do not drive on the right-hand side of the road because the law says I should drive on the left, and that law is there for good reason. It is there to protect the broader public interest. So, too, were the laws in relation to closed-circuit television cameras.

O’Farrell’s crazed logic makes even less sense when we recall that the “laws in relation to closed-circuit television cameras” that he refers to are contained within the PPIP Act that the cameras have been found to breach.

O’Farrell then uses the false balance argument to weigh privacy concerns against public safety. The problem with the balance metaphor is that it suggests there is some unit of measure that allows privacy to be compared to safety, then further defies logic in suggesting that the two can be balanced despite one winning, namely public safety:

We understand that privacy considerations are important but public safety has to be paramount. Today the Attorney General advised me that the decision on Friday exposed a loophole in the State’s privacy legislation, and today I can announce that that loophole will be fixed.

So O’Farrell believes that when the state does something wrong it means that the law must have a loophole. This is because O’Farrell believes that law is just statute, that as politicians create statute they create law and so whatever they do must be legal. But law cannot simply be statute, surely it is fundamentally about right and wrong.

O’Farrell then laid out how his government intends to amend the PPIP Act – by creating blanket exemptions (much like those in the UK’s Data Protection Act). And these exemptions are to be introduced via a “regulation” ensuring that the order can be rushed through “on the nod” with little or no debate. Whatever one may think of the PPIP Act, it was many years in the making, was published in 1996 but did not pass until 1998. Now a major amendment will be made in little over a week:

the use of closed-circuit television cameras by councils will be given an exemption through that section of the Privacy Act that was used on Friday to strike out their use in the Shoalhaven. We are drafting urgently a regulation to provide appropriate exemptions under that privacy legislation to allow local councils, including Shoalhaven City Council, to use such cameras without breaching privacy laws. The regulation will allow councils to use closed-circuit television cameras in public places.

After bigging up surveillance cameras by trotting out a list of hackneyed and incorrect claims about their magical powers (peppered with recall of frightening events to strengthen his rhetoric), O’Farrell turned once again to why he detests the decision of the tribunal:

This was a ridiculous decision. It was a decision that concerns me because it struck me that the tribunal was trying to make policy. This Parliament is the place that will make policy. Whichever party is sitting on the Government side of this place will initiate policy. I will never stand by and allow those who sit on our tribunals or courts to dictate policy.

Leaving aside the fact that this case was about a breach of legislation not about policy, O’Farrell’s bizarre schoolboy tantrum merely shows a desire of the supposedly law-making legislature to control the law-enforcing judiciary. Interestingly Blackstone had something to say about this too:

In all tyrannical governments, the supreme magistracy, or the right of both making and of enforcing the laws, is vested in one and the same man, or one and the same body of men; and wherever these two powers are united together, there can be no public liberty.

Wider Issues and the Way Forward

Study after study has shown that CCTV cameras are not an effective crime fighting tool but most of the public is still painfully unaware of this fact. Furthermore the presence of cameras has substantial negative effects on our society by increasing fear, decreasing trust and destroying a sense of community. The debate around CCTV usually focuses on privacy alone because the regulations that facilitate it in most countries focus on the collection of personal data, but the other issues at stake ultimately constitute the curtailment of personal liberty – one of the absolute rights defined by Blackstone.

Decades after CCTV cameras were first introduced there has still been no meaningful debate that takes in all of the issues and Mr Bonner’s tribunal victory is a timely reminder that such a debate is long over due.

Commenting on the likely overturning by politicians of Judicial Member S Montgomery’s tribunal decision, Mr Bonner told us:

Even though this victory may be short lived I take some heart from the fact that the Member’s decision is not being overturned by learned men or rational debate, but by politics and by those who wear their ignorance as a security blanket. I don’t like it, but I can live with the outcome knowing that.

Well done Mr Bonner and thank you for showing us what each and every one of us can and must do to protect the individual freedoms of us all.


Posted in Anti-CCTV general – 9/5/2013

The Manufacture of ”Surveillance by Consent” – 4/3/2013
[ A german translation of this article is available at or can be downloaded as a PDF here ][ This article may be downloaded as a PDF here ]

“the CCTV proposals in the Protection of Freedoms Bill are really about manufacturing consent”
No CCTV article ‘The Freedom Committee, CCTV / ANPR and the Manufacture of Consent’ (2nd May 2011) [1]

One nation under CCTV
Image by T.J.Blackwell

It’s not often that you get to witness the birth of a new philosophy but that is what we are told is at the heart of the new Surveillance Camera Code of Practice published by the UK’s Home Office this month [2]. Drum roll please, here it is, the new philosophy – “Surveillance by Consent”.

Now as new philosophies go it’s not the best and it’s not really new, nor is it a philosophy. In fact it’s more of a slogan, or more precisely a propaganda slogan. And what it contains is a ready-made judgement to save you the trouble of thinking about the issue at hand, in this case surveillance. Surveillance you are told is by consent. You need not worry how consent is achieved or what that really means. You can rest easy knowing that the word “surveillance” which was sometimes considered controversial now has a positive sounding partner “consent” – which is a good thing. Hooray that’s that thorny issue sorted.

“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible […] Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness”
‘Politics and the English Language’, George Orwell (1946) [3]

Not only has the Home Office created a “new philosophy” they’ve also launched a consultation process [4] into the new Surveillance Cameras Code of Practice. This is so that they can say the people were asked what they thought and their views were taken into account. Perhaps that’s what “surveillance by consent” is about. Except hardly anyone knows there is a consultation and even fewer will bother responding and if they do it’s unlikely they’ll be listened to unless they support the government/Home Office position. Perhaps that’s what “surveillance by consent” is about. We’re getting warmer.

To understand “surveillance by consent” we are told in the Code of Practice Consultation document [5] that it should be viewed as analogous to “Policing by Consent” – a slogan oft used to paint a rosy picture of the friendly British policeman. In fact it’s so often trotted out that it seems rude to deconstruct it here, but what the heck.

Policing by Consent

The slogan “Policing by Consent” is generally attributed to the 20th Century police historian Charles Reith, who constructed it based on what have come to be known as the nine Peelian police principles, so named after Robert Peel, the Home Secretary who introduced the modern police force in 1829. In fact these police principles are not Peel’s but Reith’s principles as it was he who constructed them based on his interpretation of official hand books, public records and the works of earlier writers [6].

A matter of principles

In his book “British Police and the Democratic Ideal” (1943) [7] Reith wrote:

British Police Principles may be defined, briefly, as the process of transmuting crude physical force, which must necessarily be provided in all human communities for securing observance of laws, into the force of public insistence on law observance; and of activating this force by inducing, unobtrusively, public recognition and appreciation of the personal and communal benefits of the maintenance of public order.
p4, ‘British Police and the Democratic Ideal’, Charles Reith (1943)

So police principles are a way of “transmuting crude physical force” – let’s see which of the Reith principles are most frequently used to transmute crude physical force and hence underpin the slogan “policing by consent”. First we have Reith’s 3rd principle:

To recognize always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of willing cooperation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
3rd Police Principle, p3, ‘British Police and the Democratic Ideal’, Charles Reith (1943)

In his 1952 offering ‘The Blind Eye of History’, Reith expands upon his third principle by explaining that following the creation of the police force in London in 1829 the public were won over (ultimately) and that the police with “their visible behaviour, sufferings and martyrdom appealed to and roused the inherent sense of justice and fair play in people’s minds” [8]. Of course blanket surveillance of the type used in “surveillance by consent” can hardly be said to represent justice and fair play, as everyone is monitored be they law abiding or law breaking. In essence surely Reith’s third principle merely states that the police must get people to obey laws – most people have a sense of right and wrong so good laws are easy to obey; bad laws need enforcing.

Then there’s Reith’s 7th principle:

To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen, in the interests of community welfare and existence.
7th Police Principle, p4, ‘British Police and the Democratic Ideal’ (1943), Reith

This 7th principle makes the strange claim “that the police are the public and the public are the police”, but the police are an organised force and a policeman swears an oath to serve the queen [9]. As Dr A.I.Goodhart wrote in the 1962 report of the Royal Commission on the Police, the idea of the police being the public:

seems to conflict with the fact that the constable is a member of a disciplined service, under a duty to obey orders, and that many of his powers are given to him as a constable and not as a citizen. To say that a constable is a citizen in uniform is no more accurate than it would be to say that all citizens are constables in plain clothes.
p162, Memorandum of Dissent by Dr A I Goodhart, Final Report of the Royal Commission on the Police 1962, Cmnd. 1728,

Would you wear a stab vest to visit your granny?

Since Reith created his principles some seventy years ago much has changed. The police increasingly wear paraphernalia that serves to distance the public from the human being that is the police officer and makes the police look ever more paramilitary. Are the public and the police the same? Would you wear a stab vest to go and visit your granny?

Furthermore we are increasingly seeing moves to privatise large sections of the police, starting with so-called back office functions – for instance the Civica Group has recently won the contract to supply the Dyfed-Powys police with a “hosted” Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system [10], and in 2011, 500 civilian staff from Cleveland police were transferred to police outsourcing giant Steria [11] who now run many of their police services including outsourced Control Room services [12]. Even the recent introduction of elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC), whilst presented as a way of making police more accountable, ties into the privatisation agenda – as the commissioners will own the new Police ICT Company Ltd which will manage outsourced contracts that “may include service management for the Automated Number Plate Recognition network” [13]. Can we still say that “the public are the police” when large sections of the police service, including major surveillance tools, are now run by private companies driven by a profit motive – with more set to follow?

After a bit of scratching of the surface we begin to see that the “policing by consent” slogan is used to disguise the fact that modern policing is merely imposed authority, as criminologist Steve Uglow writes:

These images, and phrases such as ‘policing by consent’ and ‘community policing’, form the language of persuasion. Of course, without the consent of the public it is no longer policing but repression. That we do closely identify with ‘our’ police is shown by the high degree of approval for and co-operation with them. But this esteem to some extent derives from the favourable attitude of the media and entertainment industries, since knowledge about the police is, for most people, gleaned at second-hand. Our ‘consent’ is at root artificial, constrained by the limitations of our knowledge.
p11, ‘Policing Liberal Society’, Steve Uglow, Oxford University Press (1988)

The media’s love affair of crime reporting coupled with an abundance of crime-based entertainment drama has only exacerbated the effects of successive governments heavily focusing on crime and policing – where talking tough on crime is seen as a virtue above all others. As criminologist Robert Reiner said in a recent Howard League for Penal Reform pamphlet [14]:

Crime fighting is the dominant image of police in the media, which are the main source of information for public. But this leads the police on a Quixotic quest, as there are inherent limitations to the possibilities of crime control through policing. The drivers of crime and disorder largely lie much deeper than any possibility of being tackled by even the best police. This view was once a widely shared orthodoxy. However, it is now frequently claimed to have been refuted by recent experience and evidence.
‘In praise of fire brigade policing: Contra common sense conceptions of the police role’, Robert Reiner (2012)

The modern police force has become an accepted part of mainstream society to such a degree that people forget that the whole idea of an organised force was one alien to the people of Britain.

In 1818 a parliamentary select committee wrote on the concept of an organised preventative police force:

The police of a free country is to be found in rational and humane laws – in an effective and enlightened magistracy – and in the judicious and proper selection of those officers of justice, in whose hands, as conservators of the peace, executive duties are legally placed. But above all, on the moral habits and opinions of the people; and in proportion as these approximate towards a state of perfection, so that people may rest in security; and though their property may occasionally be invaded, or their lives endangered by the hands of wicked and desperate individuals, yet the institutions of the country being sound, its laws well administered, and justice executed against offenders, no greater safeguard can be obtained, without sacrificing all those rights which society was instituted to preserve.
p32, ‘Third report from the Committee on the State of the Police of the Metropolis’ (1818)

The select committee wrote the above words in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars with revolutionary France, a time when, not unlike now, state surveillance was high [15].

So the slogan “policing by consent” can be seen as a sleight of hand, which discards past resistance to a standing army of police. It promotes acceptance of the police as a virtue above a desire for self-determination and “policing” by the community that pre-dates the modern system.

Interestingly “policing by consent” contains little actual consent. There is no suggestion that there is a choice involved – which raises a serious concern – how can there be consent without choice?

And so we return to the slogan which we are told is analogous to “policing by consent”, namely “surveillance by consent”.

“Surveillance by Consent”

The “surveillance by consent” slogan has been attributed to Andrew Rennison, an ex-policeman who is now both the Surveillance Camera Commissioner and the Forensic Science Regulator. Rennison has constructed the slogan based on the twelve guiding principles of surveillance cameras that form the recently published Surveillance Camera Code of Practice. In fact the twelve guiding principles are a re-working of fourteen golden rules created as part of an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) review of the police use of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras. The fourteen golden rules of the IPCC were broadly based (with some police stuff added) on the eight Data Protection Principles that make up the Data Protection Act 1998 – which is the statute that governs the use of CCTV and ANPR cameras.

Whilst the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice’s consultation document states that the twelve guiding principles “are considered to underpin the establishment and maintenance of surveillance by consent” [5] it appears the 1st principle is the linchpin of the slogan:

Use of a surveillance camera system must always be for a specified purpose which is in pursuit of a legitimate aim and necessary to meet an identified pressing need.

At first glance this might seem quite reasonable but this principle has been in place for some time and it has done nothing to curb the expansion of the surveillance state. The ICO 2008 CCTV Code of Practice [16] asks:

Is it [the proposed system] necessary to address a pressing need, such as public safety, crime prevention or national security?

And the ICO 2000 CCTV Code of Practice [17] states:

The First Data Protection Principle requires data controllers to have a legitimate basis for processing personal data, in this case images of individuals. The Act sets out criteria for processing, one of which must be met in order to demonstrate that there is a legitimate basis for processing the images.

In other words the first principle in the “new” Surveillance Cameras Code of Practice is a rehash of the ICO CCTV Codes of Practice, which are themselves a repeat of the Data Protection Act 1998. If it’s done nothing to curb the surveillance state until now, why would we expect it to be any better if we simply repeat it yet again?

The new code effectively says: keep doing what you are doing and without lifting a finger you’ll be protecting the freedoms of those you probably never even thought about, and to boot you have their consent. And as current systems are anyway bound by the ICO Code then they must already be “surveillance by consent” by default.

The rest of the “new” guiding principles of surveillance restate the other data protection principles – leaving a few spare principles to slot in surveillance industry related technical standards for equipment and training for operators (rehashed from the 2007 National CCTV Strategy) – exactly what you’d expect from a code of practice created under an act of parliament called “Protection of Freedoms” – that is provided you’re the author of a dystopian novel like ‘1984’.

The problem with state created regulation

The government introduced this new code supposedly to “further regulate” CCTV – but, aside from the fact that they are just repeating existing regulations, the code and it’s cod philosophy demonstrate all too well that state created “regulation” is not the answer. All that regulation does is create rules for the “proper use” of whatever is being regulated instead of consideration of whether such intrusive measures should be used at all.

Before the Home Office’s new Code, before the ICO’s CCTV codes, before the Human Rights Act, when we were told that there were “no statutory, or other, controls on the use of public space CCTV systems”, the Local Government Information Unit published a code of practice for CCTV that stated: “No sound should be recorded in public spaces” [18]. Now that we have regulation and “further” regulation – the new Surveillance Cameras Code of Practice states: “Any proposed deployment that includes audio recording in a public place is likely to require a strong justification of necessity to establish its proportionality” [19]. So we have moved from a clear prohibition to a blueprint of how to use surveillance cameras shrouded in a lawyer’s code of euphemism and sheer cloudy vagueness.

A code created by the Home Office, the chief promoter within government of surveillance, is like asking a fox to come up with the best way of ensuring that the chicken coup is only ransacked when “necessary”, in a “proportionate” way, when there is a “legitimate purpose” and “pressing need” – “dinner by consent” if you will.

Consent and Choice

consent – verb: express willingness, give permission, agree – noun: voluntary agreement, permission, compliance
Oxford English Dictionary

As with “policing by consent” there is very little about actual consent in the principles used to create “surveillance by consent”. Real consent would require a meaningful debate about whether the meagre benefits of cameras are really worth trading for hard won freedoms. Consent would require the public to be well informed about the harm that cameras have on communities and about the dangers of blindly accepting every new surveillance technology. Consent would require there to be an actual choice – but all the mainstream political parties support the indiscriminate use of surveillance cameras, and the use of the national Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) camera network that has created automated checkpoints across the country. When politicians debate CCTV it almost always descends into an infantile squabble over who loves CCTV the most [20].

Real choice demands a wider assessment of surveillance technologies, both for existing and new technology. Neil Postman, author of ‘Technopoly’, suggested six questions [21] to assist in understanding how a technology intrudes itself into a culture – such questions should be the starting point of any discussion regarding surveillance technology:

  1. What is the problem to which this technology is the solution?
  2. Whose problem is it?
  3. What new problems might be created by solving the original problem
  4. Which people and what institutions will be most seriously harmed by this new technology?
  5. What changes in language are being forced by these new technologies?
  6. What sort of people and institutions gain special economic and political power from this new technology?
  7. p42, ‘Building a Bridge to the 18th Century’, Neil Postman, Vintage Books (1999)

Without seeking the real answers to these questions we will constantly be vulnerable to claims that upgrades to surveillance tools are needed, that the upgrades are required to tackle a pressing need or a growing threat, and we will be blind to where our society is headed. In his book ‘The Technological Society’, French sociologist Jacques Ellul, referring to the indiscriminate nature of police technology, warned:

The techniques of the police, which are developing at an extremely rapid tempo, have at their necessary end the transformation of the entire nation into a concentration camp.
p101, ‘The Technological Society’, Jacques Ellul, Vintage Books (1964)

With the publication of the Westminster government’s draft Surveillance Cameras Code of Practice a trojan horse has been snuck into every public space in England and Wales – and hidden inside is “surveillance by consent”.

If you believe that consent is something that should be given voluntarily and not something that can be taken by bureaucratic thieves in the night then make your voice heard. If you live in England or Wales then start by telling the Home Office what you think (details of how to respond are at the end of this article). If you live elsewhere in the world – watch out, “surveillance by consent” is no doubt coming to your country soon. If you do nothing, your inaction will be taken as your consent to be surveilled.

Surveillance Camera Code of Practice Consultation links

(The consultation closes on 21st March 2013)

The consultation document can be downloaded from:
The proposed Code of Practice can be downloaded from:
The Code of Practice Impact Assessment can be downloaded from:

Responses can be submitted online at:

Or sent to:
Home Office
Police Transparency Unit
6th Floor Fry,
2 Marsham Street,
London, SW1P 4DF


Posted in Anti-CCTV general – 4/3/2013

New CCTV Code Consultation and “Surveillance by Consent” – 8/2/2013
The government has published its proposed new Surveillance Camera Code of Practice [1] that is the fulfilment of their vacuous commitment to “further regulate CCTV” [2]. The Home Office has also launched a short public consultation into the Code, which closes on Thursday, 21st March – so just 6 weeks.We will publish a more detailed analysis of the proposed Code shortly, but our initial take is that it’s all about perceived public confidence and not the promised protection of freedoms. The danger of producing a code of practice, particularly one so heavily laden with technical standards, is that it will be viewed as a blueprint of how to use surveillance cameras rather than a thorough evaluation of whether or not to use cameras at all. We fear a repeat of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which introduced no new powers to use surveillance, yet led to a massive increase in state intrusion by local authorities.

Orwellian definition of consent

In an echo of the hackneyed phrase ‘policing by consent’, the proposed code creates a truly Orwellian definition of ‘surveillance by consent’ – this apparently is overt surveillance in a public place in pursuit of a “legitimate aim” that “meets a pressing need” ([3] see paragraph 1.5 of the code, page 3). According to the Code consent is something that magically happens when a checklist is ticked, regardless of the views of the people actually being surveilled!

The code goes on to say that: “Surveillance by consent should be regarded as analogous to policing by consent” and further points out in relation to the police:

“They exercise their powers to police their fellow citizens with the implicit consent of their fellow citizens.”

So when the government says consent they mean “implied consent” – in other words if you don’t say you don’t consent then you consent.

Next steps in the wrong direction

The Home Office says they will “analyse the responses” after the consultation has closed before the draft code of practice can be laid before Parliament for approval. They anticipate laying the draft code of practice and the draft Order providing for it to come into force before Parliament by the end of April. If approved by both Houses of Parliament (it’s an order so it’ll go through on the nod!) they expect the Code of Practice could come into effect around the end of June 2013.

What is really needed if the government is committed to restoring and preserving our historic and valued traditions of freedom (to borrow a phrase from the Ministerial Foreword to the 2011 code consultation [4]), is a thorough evaluation of surveillance cameras and an ethical discussion of whether it is appropriate to use such technology at all.

Consultation links

The consultation document can be downloaded from:
The proposed Code of Practice can be downloaded from:

Repsonses can be submitted online at:

Or sent to:
Home Office
Police Transparency Unit
6th Floor Fry,
2 Marsham Street,
London, SW1P 4DF


Posted in Anti-CCTV, Feb 8th 2013

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: