CCTV of Little Use - Well There's a Surprise

I’ve surfaced from last week’s Identity and Privacy conference to start work on some lengthier and more detailed posts, but this particular item caught my eye – the Guardian reports on a review of CCTV use in cities and urban areas which, unsurprisingly, concludes that it offers very few benefits. The authors say “while their results lend support for the continued use of CCTV, schemes should be far more narrowly targeted at reducing vehicle crime in car parks.”

This is a theme we’ve discussed before, and one that is becoming increasingly widespread: just last week a senior ACPO representative reiterated his belief that practical applications of CCTV are few and far between. The Home Office is trying to force pubs, clubs, shops and off licenses to install CCTV, despite their experience of what happens when ordinary citizens have the ability to film the police in action, and the fact that this is now technically illegal. And there are still big problems with retention of CCTV images and the difficulty of obtaining subject access to those images.

We need greater honesty about why the government is keen on CCTV: it doesn’t prevent crime, but moves it to other areas. CCTV is pretty useful to protect property (for example, when I park at the station I try to ensure my car is within the gaze of a camera). When properly implemented and used, CCTV makes for a great evidence tool, so I’ve no problem with cameras at bank counters. But when CCTV is used instead of an effective police presence then we run into problems. If the police, or a private organisation, choose to use CCTV in place of a person on the ground, then as well as a Privacy Impact Assessment they should be encouraged to release an economic statement to justify why they have chosen to use cameras instead of eyes. Considering CCTV as an economic, rather than a security, tool would make for a much simpler and easier debate all round.

[Thanks to FIPR for the link]