Info chief slaps Met on CCTV in pubs
Coppers try to hardwire surveillance in Islington
The Met Police got a short sharp rap over the knuckles yesterday, as the Office of the Information Commissioner questioned what looks very much like a blanket policy to force CCTV onto public houses in certain parts of London.
The story begins with a letter to the Guardian last week, from Nick Gibson. He is currently renovating Islington pub The Drapers Arms, after its previous owners allowed it to go insolvent and then disappeared.
In his letter, he argues that if he had merely taken over an existing licence, the police could not have imposed any additional conditions. However, because this was now a new licence, the police were able to make specific requests, including one particular request in respect of installing CCTV.
Mr Gibson wrote: "I was stunned to find the police were prepared to approve, ie not fight, our licence on condition that we installed CCTV capturing the head and shoulders of everyone coming into the pub, to be made available to them upon request. There was no way that they could have imposed this on the previous licence holder."
We spoke to the Police and to Islington Council. The Council were clear that this was not their policy: they would look at individual licence applications in the light of representations made to the Licensing Committee and decide on a case by case basis.
It was left to the Met to confirm the existence of a blanket policy for some parts of London. A spokeswoman for the Met said: "The MPS overall does not have a policy of insisting CCTV is installed within licensed premises before supporting licence applications.
"However, individual boroughs may impose blanket rules in support of their objectives to prevent crime and disorder and to assist the investigation of offences when they do occur.
"Islington is one of the most densely populated districts for licensed premises in London and the borough's licensing authority is committed to providing a safe environment in which to socialise.
"To this end, Islington police recommend all premises are required to install CCTV and make those images available to police upon request before a licence is granted."
This is in stark contrast to existing guidelines (pdf) put together by the Office of the Information Commissioner, which requires any body seeking to install CCTV to do so on a case by case basis and only after carrying out a full impact assessment. Clearly, a blanket policy covering a whole borough would fail to meet these guidelines.
When we put this to the Met, they clarified further, explaining that they did not "impose" CCTV, but merely put it forward as a "recommendation" to the relevant Licensing body. We also asked why they had mentioned a requirement for all licenseholders to make images available "on request" – which would be a serious extension of police powers. The Met responded that there was no intention to trawl footage for purposes of crime prevention – and this was merely a re-statement of existing law.
However, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Information Commissioner said: "Hardwiring surveillance into the UK’s pubs raises serious privacy concerns. We recognise that CCTV plays an important role in the prevention and detection of crime, and can help to reduce crime in areas of high population density, such as city boroughs.
"However, we are concerned at the prospect of landlords being forced into installing CCTV in pubs as a matter of routine in order to meet the terms of a licence. The use of CCTV must be reasonable and proportionate if we are to maintain public trust and confidence in its deployment.
"Installing surveillance in pubs to combat specific problems of rowdiness and bad behaviour may be lawful, but hardwiring in blanket measures where there is no history of criminal activity is likely to breach data protection requirements. We will be contacting the police and others involved to establish the facts and discuss the situation in Islington.”
This sentiment was echoed by Chris Huhne, Lib Dems Home Affairs spokeman, who added: "The impression is that CCTV is a panacea for preventing crime but the evidence for this is far from conclusive.
"We are already the most watched society in the world, yet more and more CCTVs are being installed every day. What we really need is proper regulation and an end to the over-reliance on this over-used and intrusive technology." ®
Make it easy on yourselves
Or rather go along with it because it helps the police.
We used to use Windows with 64MB of RAM but now most computer professionals would refuse to deal with such a machine until it had been upgraded to at least 512MB. It's not impossible for us to work on a 64MB machine but you would think so based on our reactions.
And so it is with the police. They used to be able to solve crimes based on what witnesses saw. Now because CCTV is avialable, the only crimes they will work on are the ones on CCTV. So if you want help from the police you had better gather good CCTV evidence.
Get on with it already.
The UK need to go ahead and get on with it already. It's obvious the government won't be satisfied until it has shoved an electronic leash up the arse of every citizen.
"The police pretty much said they can't do anything for our apartment block 'cos we didn't have CCTV"
I think I'm speaking to the choir here but that is a bald-faced lie of course. Most of the US is not such a surveillance society (the police-state shit happens in New York City area mainly, along with Texas). But areas WITH excessive CCTV, they will try to use cameras *instead* of police on foot and in cars in the area (I don't know if they just figure the cameras can replace police, or just don't have money for both...) Since cameras don't catch anyone, and there's no longer police on patrol, crime goes up. They use this crime increase as an excuse to install *more* cameras.
Here, some apartments have cameras in the hallways (to prevent vandalism mainly -- i.e. spraypainting the hallways... a few I've seen obviously were not even hooked up.) But in general, the best deterrent, police can get to anywhere in town within about 5 minutes. They still managed not to catch a serial mugger (even after they were given info what bar he hung out in, bragging about how he beat people up every night...) But in general..the US chav-equivalents (meth heads, gangbangers, and drunk students.. I don't live far enough south for drunken rednecks) are FAR more deterred from commiting petty crimes by the likelihood that someone will call the cops, they'll show up and toss them into a black-and-white, than they are deterred by being picked up on some shitty, blurry camera.
The British plan for massive use of camera, and centralizing police in massive centralized installations, is exactly backwards from what you need to help with crime. It will not be documented well enough on the typical cheap cameras to do anything, and the centralized police will be so far from, well, everyone not immediately near the police station, that they won't come out to actually help with any crimes. And criminals are already criminals, will police catching them on CCTV and mailing them a ticket or whatever really going to do anything? No, if they are already vandalizing, mugging, and chaving it up, I see no reason they would pay the ticket anyway.