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Our International Media Contributions: An Excellent PressTV Article on UK Surveillance State

CCTVs & social impacts on UK society

Mon Dec 10, 2012 7:7PM
Being looked over all the time means someone’s privacy and personal space are being invaded. The condition could be increasingly seen in the UK where the country is “sleep-walking into a surveillance society” as its own government sources are putting it.

When one thinks of surveillance, first thought that comes up would be CCTV (Close Circuit Television) because it is most common and well-known type of surveillance that is widely used across the UK, but surveillance goes a lot further than just CCTV.

Surveillance is a broad topic and CCTV is not the only surveillance that is watching over the society. Other techniques such as ‘Biometrics, Mobile Phones, and Phone tapping, Local Area Networks (LAN) and workplace surveillance also adds to the surveillance.

It is believed though that it is CCTV in general that tends to concern society. This is mainly due to the number of CCTV cameras installed in town centres across the UK and the cost of having them and keeping them running, partially because the idea of being watched 24/7 leaves society a very little chance to socialize privately.

In January 2000, [then] Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the expansion of CCTV network in England with the input of an enormous £150 million of public money (Parker, 2000).

Before the expansion, there were already 1.3 million CCTV Cameras throughout the nation keeping an eye on society and public in restaurants, parks, streets, malls and other public places.

Parker stated that the expansion was rising at the rate of 20% a year with the number of CCTV cameras watching us a year in the United Kingdom.

A recent study obtained by London Liberal Democrat Justin Davenport due to the freedom of information act. The study showed that the average cost of keeping these cameras running is believed to be around £20 million per year and over the past decade, over £200 million has been spent on CCTV cameras in London only.

The shocking factor that comes to mind is that this study was just based within the city of London. The total bulge sum of the whole nation would be significantly higher which is paid out from the taxpayer’s money.

Another research carried out by ‘London Evening Standards‘ showed that up to 90 per cent of CCTV installations fail to comply with the Information Commissioner’s UK CCTV code of practice, yet they are still there keeping a watch over the city.

Obviously the reason given for this was to control crimes and vandalism across the nation, but as years passed the cameras installed came to be used as trackers and to keep an eye on any suspicious characters within the society. Parker said that any average working men would be seen by over 300 cameras a day in any big city in the United Kingdom. Stated example of someone leaving home in the morning for work till they get back home in the evening is being used to support Parker’s example. But it doesn’t stop there, after being at home, any activities such as talking on the phone or surfing the web on the laptop or mobile phone would carry on being surveillance. This can be due to the security of the nation but knowing of being innocent and still being watched 24/7 would just feel “wrong”.

It is claimed that surveillance is there for security to reduce crime, to keep a watch over public places and for safer working environment in work places, it is there to keep track of a criminal or suspects or even to capture a crime-taking place.

Nevertheless, as much as CCTV Surveillance claims to bring reduction to crime levels, there has not been definite evidence to support such claims. The reduction is there but may not be as high as claimed because it is easy to move out of sight of the “unforgiving eye”, and according to Professor Ditton of the Scottish Centre for criminology “closed CCTV camera system in town and city centres have failed to match their anti-crime expectations (Parker, 2000).

The term for surveillance being everywhere is known as ‘Routine surveillance’ which is a part of “residential areas, schools, road traffic, car park and petrol stations, telephone booth and cash machines, railway stations, retail and commercial, hospitals, stadiums and police surveillance” (Norris and Armstrong, 1999).

CCTV Surveillance; first discovered in early nineteenth century (Holtzman, 2006) but since then, it has gone through a vast amount of improvements as seen in today’s CCTV cameras and systems.

CCTVs were mainly used by military and army forces but it was later on when CCTV made its entry within workplaces. It wasn’t till later when government decided to introduce them to keep an eye on society and public.

In 2000, more than half of the UK workforce was being monitored at the highest levels, even places like rest rooms, cafe area and restaurants that are far away from the actual working area were under watch.

Workplaces came under surveillance for many reasons such as ‘to protect the premises from vandalism, theft, drugs and physical abuse towards other employees and also to keep an eye on all the employees working to enable the employer to see what they are doing. Such environment and atmosphere can be illustrated as untrustworthy environment where there would be no such thing as trust.

The human rights group Privacy International has carried out a 36-nation survey in which Britain is the worst Western democracy at protecting individual privacy.

According to the survey the two worst countries in terms of surveillance are Malaysia and China, and Britain is one of the bottom five with “endemic surveillance”.

Quite recently, the UK’s first surveillance commissioner warned that Britain is turning to become a Big Brother society by deploying CCTV systems capable of identifying and tracking a person’s face from half a mile away.

Andrew Rennison told The Independent that “new high-definition cameras are being rolled out across UK cities without public consultation into the intrusion they pose”.

He warned that the UK is violating its own human rights laws by deploying increasingly sophisticated surveillance technology.

“The technology has overtaken our ability to regulate it,” he said.

“I’m convinced that if we don’t regulate it properly – ie, the technological ability to use millions of images we capture – there will be a huge public backlash. It is the Big Brother scenario playing out large. It’s the ability to pick out your face in a crowd from a camera which is probably half a mile away”, Rennison added.

The anti-surveillance campaign group Big Brother Watch recently found that at least 51,600 CCTV cameras are being used by 428 local authorities – and that 100,000 are in use in schools, with as many as 200 using them inside toilets and changing rooms.
More than a million cameras have also been installed on private land.

Rennison added that the explosion of powerful surveillance technology could be in breach of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, which seeks to protect “private and family life”.

Meanwhile, a Freedom of Information request by The Daily Telegraph found in 2009 that the Metropolitan Police’s own research suggested that 1,000 CCTV cameras solved less than one crime per year.

Another Freedom of Information request, this time by Big Brother Watch, found that CCTV cameras have been installed in pupils’ toilets or changing rooms by more than 200 schools across Britain.

According to data provided by more than 2,000 schools a total of 825 cameras were located in the toilets or changing rooms of 207 schools across England, Scotland and Wales.

The privacy campaign group said parents should be worried about the level of surveillance being directed at their children and the authorities’ lack of accountability.

“This research raises serious questions about the privacy of schoolchildren across Britain, with some schools having one camera for every five pupils and hundreds of schools using cameras in toilets and changing rooms”, said Nick Pickles, the director of Big Brother Watch.

With 1.8m pupils being taught in these schools, there was an average of one camera for every 38 children, according to the survey.

In all, 90% of schools had CCTV cameras, with an average of 24 cameras in each of the 1,537 secondary schools that responded and 30 cameras in each of the 570 academies.

Big Brother Watch estimates the number of CCTV cameras in secondary schools and academies across England, Wales and Scotland was now 106,710.

At the rate the CCTV Surveillance is growing, it can be predicted that there will be a time where public will not go unnoticed by the watchful eyes of government and authorities. This is only going to cost more to the society and it will be the society that will have to pay the government to add the discomfort to the social lives.

The more systems are being implemented, the more data gets stored and the information asset gets bigger by day, which if falls in wrong hands then the damage could be unimaginable.

Other excellent links:
Snooper’s bill unworkable, Clegg tells May
Clegg demands major rethink over ‘snoopers’ charter’ that could monitor phone records and internet use
Privacy vs. Security EU Eyes Massive Collection of Air Passenger Data


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