The Manufacture of ”Surveillance by Consent”

No CCTV.org.uk
[ A german translation of this article is available at http://www.devianzen.de/2013/04/13/die-herstellung-einvernehmlicher-uberwachung/ 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:
http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/consultations/surveillance-camera-consultation/consultation-document?view=Binary
The proposed Code of Practice can be downloaded from:
http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/consultations/surveillance-camera-consultation/code-of-practice?view=Binary
The Code of Practice Impact Assessment can be downloaded from:
http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/consultations/surveillance-camera-consultation/consultation-impact-assessment?view=Binary

Responses can be submitted online at:
www.homeofficesurveys.homeoffice.gov.uk/v.asp?i=69377oduov

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

Endnotes:

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

The Manufacture of ”Surveillance by Consent” part 2 – 14/10/2013

– Is mass surveillance so bad if you can’t see it?

One nation under CCTV
Image by T.J.Blackwell

In the dark ages known as the twentieth century, mass surveillance of entire populations was a sport practised only by elitist totalitarian states . Those unlucky enough to live in what was then termed a “free country”, had to sit on the sidelines and simply imagine what it was like to be subject to constant state intrusion.

But times change, and after several wars of the twentieth century (including the war to end all wars) mass surveillance was finally liberated. The liberators of surveillance even adopted a snappy slogan to help spread their evangelic message, which today is more commonly used than that one about washing up liquid – “nothing to hide, nothing to fear”. Don’t bother de-constructing this slogan in any way – just marvel at its symmetry and its almost Shakespearean rhythm.

You see the secret to success of the architects of “surveillance for all” was they spotted that surveillance is so much easier to sell to the masses when it’s invisible.

Take for instance roadside checkpoints. Some unenlightened people, who hadn’t yet adopted the officially sanctioned acceptance of surveillance, didn’t like being stopped by uniformed officials and being asked to produce their papers and explain their movements. So like sweetening a bitter pill to make a child take their medicine, the surveilligalitarians introduced automation.

Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras were first developed back in the dark days of the 1970s in Britain [1]. The Home Office had a team of very clever boffins who beavered away in their Scientific Development Branch to develop a system to film number plates on vehicles and then convert the image into electronic letters and numbers. Those letters and numbers could then be fed into a new type of magic box known as a “computer”. The theory was that these “computers” could then do very clever things like compare the numbers and letters to those on a list of cars and go “ping” when it filmed a car from the list.

The year of the subversives

A secret test system was placed on the M1 motorway in England which was spotted by a trouble making New Scientist journalist in 1984 (no really!). That journalist was called Steve Connor, and he wrote an article [2] showing little understanding of the ground breaking contribution to the world of surveillance equality that was being done by the Home Office. Connor it seems was concerned that the list of “stolen vehicles” on the Police National Computer wasn’t just made up of stolen vehicles, it also contained vehicles of “interest” to the police and those “seen or checked in noteworthy circumstances”; he wrote:

The Home Office refuses to give assurances that the equipment will not eventually be employed in monitoring the movements of vehicles falling into these categories. A spokeswoman said: “At the moment there is no intention of using it for anything other than detecting stolen cars.” But, she added, this is flexible. As she put it: “When the Russians take over next week things might change.”

The Home Office unlike Connor saw that surveillance is a laughing matter and did all they could to put the fun back into state spying.

Not everyone unfortunately got the joke. Also in 1984 (I know what is it with that year and anti-surveillance subversives?) the Greater London Council (GLC) produced a report [3] that looked at how the police were using their newfangled “computers”. They had spotted that police were using the new Police National Computer (PNC) to manually run more random checks on vehicles. The act of running a check on a plate meant that invisible alerts were being sent to the British secret police, known then as now as special branch, with regard to vehicles of “interest”. For instance, if special branch were monitoring a meeting of union leaders (at date of writing this remains a perfectly legal activity), and noted the car number plates of those attending, and put them in the PNC as vehicles of “interest”, and if a policeman subsequently stopped one of those cars for any reason (such as a defective headlamp) and ran a check on the car, then, unknown to the policeman or the driver, special branch would be sent an alert telling them when and where the vehicle had been spotted. The GLC were worried about the expanded reach of special branch as a result of the computerised vehicle lists (also known as indexes) and the danger of hooking these up to automatic cameras. The GLC report said:

The increasing rate of vehicle checking by the ordinary police officer therefore acts to enlarge the scope of Special Branch surveillance. Although it is not general police policy to gather and collate information on every vehicle of ‘interest’ to the police, the structure of the PNC’s [Police National Computer] indexes, and the use of devices that read car number plates automatically, leave mass surveillance as a policy to be determined independently by the police. This possibility in a democracy is unacceptable.

What the GLC forgot was that in the surveillance Garden of Eden (or surveilleden) that was to come ,”democracy” would just become another sort of slogan with little opportunity for the surveilled masses (or survmassed) to actually influence very much.

Technocop

Thankfully 1984 only lasted a year and then 1985 arrived. Unfortunately some people thought it was still 1984 and still weren’t on board with automated checkpoints. One group of such people was the British Society for Responsibility in Science (BSSRS) who published a book called Techocop [4] in which they said of the automatic checking of number plates against lists of vehicles:

This type of technology clearly represents a significant increase in the power of the state. Instead of civil liberties, we have the police taking liberties. We no longer have the individual presumed innocent until found guilty, or at least until found suspicious. Increasingly we will have the individual presumed guilty, or at least suspicious, until (temporarily) cleared by the electronic message of ‘NO TRACE’. And it doesn’t take much imagination to see how the same principle could be extended to other areas of social life.

What the BSSRS failed to grasp was that of course the police were taking liberties, they need to do that to keep us safe, and anyway why would you want liberties, surely only criminals want those. In those days though some subversives continued to believe that law abiding members of the public should have liberties.

A few years later in 1994 this issue was finally resolved by the Westminster Government, when it was decided that the “liberties” that the BSSRS and their types wanted shouldn’t be called liberties at all. Instead they should be called “so-called liberties”. And so it was that the then Prime Minister, John Major, as he launched a Home Office surveillance cameras guidance booklet [5], boldly said:

I have no doubt we will hear some protest about a threat to civil liberties. Well I have no sympathy what so ever for so-called liberties of that kind.

Sorted.

But the troublemakers in the BSSRS were complaining about more than just “so-called liberties”. They were concerned about how the new “computers” were shaping the entire field of policing, particularly the use of what the police were calling “intelligence” – known to ordinary people as information. Somehow information becomes “intelligence” when a policeman says it is relevant or could be relevant in some way. For instance gossip in the pub about a bloke who has got a nice car – to a policeman could become “intelligence” (and get entered into a computer) if he thinks maybe that bloke is a baddie who probably stole the car or bought it with money from selling stolen potatoes or something.

The police were able to use “community policing” to get into the community and gather this gossip, sorry, I mean intelligence. The big difference was that in the past police obtained information after a crime to help solve it, now they collect it before the event to supposedly predict crime, or with computers they can go back after the event and study information they already collected. Some people thought this sort of thing was very sensible but some people, like science fiction writer Philip K Dick, who was always banging on about police states, thought [6]:

Any society in which people meddle in other people’s business is not a good society, and a state in which the government “knows more about you than you know about yourself,” […] is a state that must be overthrown.

But then he would say that, he wrote that mad Tom Cruise film with the eye tracking, he was probably just trying to sell more books.

Anyway, in their 1985 book Technocop the BSSRS pointed out that this way of police gathering and then acting upon “intelligence” was also known as “targeting and surveillance”, which has its origins in the military. But the BSSRS were way off the mark – with regard to timing at least. What they were describing wouldn’t be formalised in the UK police until the 1990s when the Kent police force tried a new model which became known for some reason as the Kent Policing Model or KPM. This model was promoted by the Chief Constable of Kent Police who was also back then the President of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), which in 1996 changed from a quasi police union into a corporatised, professional lobbying body for the police [7].

The Kent Policing Model would have repercussions not just in Kent, or even just the UK but across the world as the new style of policing was adopted internationally and pushed by the US based International Association of Chiefs of Police. This new style of policing was named “intelligence-led policing” and it was left up to the police to decide whether this was the correct way to shape society. After all, it makes no sense to get spies to ask their targets if spying is the right thing to do…

So you can see that the early attempts at automated roadside checkpoints were not everybody’s cup of tea but this is not why they weren’t immediately rolled out across the nation. The reason was that back in the twentieth century computers were the size of large houses and as slow as snails with shells on their backs the size of an enormous computer. The boffins had to keep beavering away and wait for the new millennium to usher in computers as small as actual snails but much faster.

With the dawning of the twenty first century (or the surveillennium) all of the ingredients finally came together:

  • smaller and lower cost technology;
  • a political class committed to surveillance whether it was needed or not;
  • a police force willing to go it alone and build a nationwide network of number plate cameras without the need for outdated things like say a public debate;
  • a new policing model called “intelligence led policing”.

Interestingly, as mentioned earlier in this article, the last of these ingredients, “intelligence led policing”, was ushered in by the very same body that has worked tirelessly to construct a nationwide network of number plate recognition cameras – the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). ACPO lobbied the Home Office to remodel the entire police service according to a pro-active rather than reactive policing model and they worked with the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) to produce the grand sounding National Intelligence Model (NIM) which was really just a re-working of their first attempt at “intelligence led policing”, KPM, but sounded better.

The Temple of Hendon

And so it was that in a secure computer facility in Hendon, the police built a temple of surveillance called the National ANPR Data Centre or NADC. This facility was fully switched on or “went live” somewhere between 2005 and 2008 – we don’t know exactly when because it’s a secret of course [8].

Unlike the stone age number plate cameras in the 1980s the modern system doesn’t just link to one list or database of number plates but instead to a whole range of databases with really great modern names like BOF, MIDAS, ELVIS and PIKE [9].

In an age where surveillance is cool number plate cameras are chilling.

Now the system is truly open to all in that it tracks the movements of all vehicles, not just those that are listed as stolen or those of “interest” to the police. No crime needs to be committed to be placed under surveillance, not even reasonable suspicion of involvement in any crime is required. Now everyone in a vehicle can be tracked and the details of when they passed a number plate camera will be stored in a national database for two years – thus allowing the police to go back and check where you were in the past, which could be really handy. After all you might not be a criminal when you pass the camera but you might well become one later.

But even amidst this glistening age of surveillequality there are still, believe it or not, some detractors. Incredibly they’re not whining because there isn’t enough surveillance – they think there’s too much!

A few people think that the move to “intelligence led policing” has led to an excessive focus on the collection of information. They think that a perfect storm is brewing, where the much hyped field of ‘Big Data’, a term used to describe the use of computers to look for patterns in large data sets, will join together with constant surveillance and lead to a society where individual freedom is no longer valued. For instance they look at the new policing model being trialled by Kent police (them again) – that of using a new computer tool called Predpol [10] as part of what is known as “predictive policing”, a technology driven extension of “intelligence led policing”. They are concerned that once again a shift in policing is taking place with no public debate or scrutiny.

But have no fear, these nay sayers are probably the sort of people who believe in “so-called liberties” so they won’t break through into the mainstream media very often.

Anyway the mainstream media is now directing its focus on the security services and how they act in the name of “keeping us all safe”. One can’t help but wonder however what happens when the whole state and its every function become one massive security service. Didn’t George Orwell have something to say about that? The mainstream media certainly don’t. Must be not happening then.

Part one of this article quoted a British parliamentary select committee who wrote a report in 1818, before there was a professional police service in the UK. They wrote about the dangers inherent in an organised police force and the values essential to a free society. But they had more to warn us about because they feared that the new police would be focussed on preventative measures, or what has now become known as “intelligence led policing”:

It is no doubt true, that to prevent crime is better than to punish it; but the difficulty is not in the end but the means, and though Your Committee could imagine a system of police that might arrive at the object sought for ; yet in a free country, or even in one where any unrestrained intercourse of society is admitted, such a system would of necessity be odious and repulsive, and one which no government could be able to carry into execution. In despotic countries it has never yet succeeded to the extent aimed at by those theorists ; and among a free people, the very proposal would be rejected with abhorrence : it would be a plan which would make every servant of every house a spy on the actions of his master, and all classes of society spies on each other.
p32, ‘Third report from the Committee on the State of the Police of the Metropolis’ (1818)

Ironically the police force in Britain was first introduced to allay growing concerns of heavy-handed tactics used by the military in dealing with domestic public disorder. Despite assurances, the public at the time were concerned that the new police were merely the army in blue uniforms. Now, almost two hundred years later, the militarisation of the police force, with an allegedly consenting population, is almost complete – we have come full circle to what was feared at their inception as the police become the military once more. All we can hope is that there are enough nay sayers to raise the alarm.


[ No CCTV’s report “What’s Wrong With ANPR?’ – the story of number plate recognition cameras as a mass surveillance tool can be downloaded at http://www.no-cctv.org.uk/whats_wrong_with_anpr.asp ]

Endnotes:

  • [ 1] For more background on ANPR see the No CCTV Report ‘What’s Wrong With ANPR?’ http://www.no-cctv.org.uk/whats_wrong_with_anpr.asp
  • [ 2] ‘Secret eye scans motorway’, Steve Connor, New Scientist 12th January 1984
  • [ 3] ‘Police computers and the metropolitan police’, Dr Chris Pounder for the Greater London Council Police Committee, 1985 (adopted by the GLC 17th July 1984)
  • [ 4] ‘TechnoCop: New Police Technologies’, BSSRS Technology of Political Control Group, Free Association Books, 1985
  • [ 5] Launch of ‘CCTV: Looking Out For You’, reported in Independent, 27 February 1994
  • [ 6] Phillip K Dick, ‘If You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others’, speech at the second Festival International de la Science-Fiction de Metz, France, September 1977
  • [ 7] the quasi union part was recast as the Chief Police Officers’ Staff Association (CPOSA)
  • [ 8] In their excellent article on the secretive nature of the ANPR network (‘Ring of Steel – How the secretive spread of networked surveillance helped turn Britain into one of the world’s most watched countries’) James Bridle and SA Mathieson write:
    “Thus a system shrouded in secrecy is compelled to prioritise that secrecy over the full exercise of the law, degrading justice in the same manner in which secret courts and secret intelligence have led to the gradual erosion of ancient legal rights, among them habeas corpus.”
    Article available at https://www.readmatter.com/a/ring-of-steel/
  • [ 9] BOF = Back Office Function
    MIDAS = Motor Insurance Database Application System
    ELVIS = regional stolen vehicle databases which covers Merseyside (according to 2004 Home Office report ‘Driving crime down’)
    PIKE = a national database of LGV and commercial vehicles of interest (according to 2004 Home Office report ‘Driving crime down’)
  • [10] http://www.statewatch.org/news/2013/mar/01uk-predictive-policing.htm

Posted in Anti-CCTV general – 14/10/2013

 

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