In UK, Big Brother’s Cameras a Costly Flop

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By Dave Gahary 

A report released this past week by a civil liberties group in the United Kingdom focusing on that country’s liberal use of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras to combat crime has revealed that, far from providing safer neighborhoods or crime-solving capabilities, the system of surveillance spread across much of the UK is near worthless for the huge sums spent.

The reason for this is that the immigrant criminal element that has overrun Jolly Old England over the past several decades has become desensitized by CCTV’s presence, well aware that their technology does not produce clear images and not all cameras are monitored or properly recorded or saved. Ironically, the main reason for the explosion of surveillance is due to the influx of uneducated and uncivilized immigrants, mostly African and South East Asian, exhibiting what the ever-polite British refer to as “anti-social behavior.”

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Big Brother Watch (BBW) commissioned the study when they became aware of the enormous taxpayer funds spent on surveillance cameras across the UK and how there was no follow-up on the surveillance systems’ effectiveness. Entitled “The Price of Privacy: How local authorities spent £515m ($814 million) on CCTV in four years,” the report identified some key findings that they hope will increase dialogue on this issue and lead to some effective regulation of the UK’s massive surveillance system. (Local authorities are the equivalent of a county or city in the U.S.)

On February 27, AFP conducted an exclusive interview with Emma Carr, the Deputy Director of BBW. Based in London and founded in 2009, BBW “was set up to challenge policies that threaten our privacy, our freedoms and our civil liberties, and to expose the true scale of the surveillance state,” according to its website.

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The nearly 1 billion dollars spent paid for over “50,000 CCTV cameras that are just owned by local authorities,” Ms. Carr explained. That figure, she continued “doesn’t include central government and the police, the London transport system and ANPR, so the figure would actually be far, far higher.” ANPR stands for Automatic Number Plate Recognition, a monitored mass surveillance program that uses sophisticated technology to read vehicle license plates. (Latest figures on total numbers of cameras in the UK are conservatively estimated at around 2 million)

“Britain’s currently home to 20 percent of the world’s CCTV cameras having only 1 percent of the world’s population,” explained Ms. Carr, the reason many consider the UK to be the most watched nation on earth. Touting this, UK law enforcement claims, without actual evidence, that surveillance improves public safety. In the same breath, London’s Metropolitan Police admit that only 1 crime was solved in all of 2008 per 1,000 cameras. Additionally, studies show that CCTV images allowed police to identify suspects in less than a quarter of the cases.

“The CCTVs don’t push the crime rate down,” explained Ms. Carr, “but just push the crime to another area where the CCTV isn’t present.”

BBW would prefer to see actual cops on the beat.

“£515 million would get you 4,000 police constables or 6,000 PCSOs (Police Community Support Officers),” explained Ms. Carr.

AFP asked what the future holds for surveillance in the UK.

Ms. Carr was clear: “I think that the danger we have at the moment is that the technology’s getting so much more sophisticated and expensive that now is the time to assess whether it’s effective and whether we need it.”

As an example of this, Ms. Carr described how one local authority is looking to the future.

“Birmingham has spent £14 million ($22 million) on a lot of very new technology that includes cameras that have loudspeakers attached to them so that they can have somebody sitting in the control room and if they see a crime taking place they can literally talk to the person that’s committing the crime and inform them that their image has been captured and tell them to stop.”

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Dave Gahary, a former submariner in the U.S. Navy, is the host of AFP’s “Underground Interview” series.

Be sure to check out all of AFP’s free podcasts. You’ll find them on the Home Page, in the Archives & in the Podcast section.

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