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UK CCTV numbers 'may be overstated'

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Police forces are seeking electronic transfers of data from local authority cameras to police forces, according to Nick Garvan, assistant chief constable of Thames Valley Police.

Describing such cameras as "an indispensable investigative tool", he told the Home Affairs Select Committee last week: "Any perception on the part of the public that there is some kind of Orwellian infrastructure sitting behind society where these cameras are terribly well integrated and joined up as part of the surveillance state is entirely wrong."

Garvan said the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is asking for improved, ideally electronic, transfers of data from cameras: "We should be able to make use of overt, local authority CCTV with the minimum of bureaucracy, because everybody knows it is there and we shouldn't be hampered in our use of it." He added that such transfers would have to ensure the material met evidential standards for use in court.

The request is part of ACPO's national strategy on use of surveillance cameras.

Garvan cast doubt on the idea that Britain has 4.2m surveillance cameras, saying the figure was based on a 2002 study which extrapolated from the number of cameras on Putney High Street in London. "We approach that figure with some scepticism," he said, adding that ACPO's strategy relates to the cameras run by local authorities – of which there are around 30,000 in total.

In a written submission to the committee, ACPO said the 2002 study found that only 16 per cent of cameras were managed by the public sector, with the rest run by businesses and therefore subject to far less regulation.

Peter Neyroud, chief executive of the National Policing Improvement Agency, said his organisation was working on facial recognition technology which will use the output of cameras, through the Facial Images National Database programme. "If those are applied to a small local database, they can be very effective," he said of facial recognition, adding that the agency is also working on automated analysis of behaviour viewed by cameras.

Neyroud told the committee that a small study in one force had suggested that cameras produce nearly as many detections as DNA matching and fingerprints. "It's a hugely important part of serious crime investigation," he said, as the BBC series Crimewatch and recent missing persons enquiries made clear.

He added that cameras also reduce the likelihood of crime, as they make people feel more comfortable in public spaces, and more people in a public space in itself makes crime less likely.

Neyroud also told the select committee, which is investigating the surveillance society, that he has used the audit trail created by the Police National Computer to put someone in court, in response to a question on whether the information on that system is adequately protected.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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