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Britons’ privacy at ‘real risk’ from weakly-regulated street cams – watchdog

Published time: April 20, 2014 15:14
Edited time: June 27, 2014 08:20
Reuters / David Moir

Reuters / David Moir

Britain’s ‘surveillance society’ increasingly functions in ways the public is unaware of. An abundance of CCTV – and roadside – cameras misleads the public as to the true nature and scope of government snooping, the surveillance watchdog says.

The overall rise in surveillance culture over the past decades has not only led to public ignorance over how road cameras (dash-cams) scan millions of journeys and registration details daily, but also to a rise in private CCTV habits that has Britons snooping on each other and feeling the pressure of constantly being watched by their neighbors.

This was revealed in an interview to The Independent by Tony Porter, the Government’s Surveillance Commissioner. He argues that better and clearer guidelines are required to regulate the government’s bulk data gathering on innocent citizens. Among other things, it should be regularly updated and removed in a timely manner.

But another crucial point Porter feels the public is missing has to do with public fears of clandestine government operations and hacking overshadowing the surveillance being carried out right under everyone’s noses.

“There is a very real risk that if systems aren’t adhered to, innocent members of the public could be put at risk of having their privacy impacted upon… There are other concerns that have been expressed … the large data-grab of information and the period of retention of that information,” Porter said. Among other things, the information – even on innocent people – is stored by the cams’ network for a period of two years.

Now, a series of probes into ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) has thrust the police into the spotlight, following the system’s failures, which put into question the justifications for the dash-cams’ use. The system is at the center of the country’s growing concern with government surveillance in general.

In Porter’s eyes information gathering by some 50,000 government-controlled cams (and there are literally around 18 million journeys caught daily) solidifies ANPR’s reputation as that of the “biggest surveillance networks that most people have never heard of,” according to campaigners.

Reuters / Luke MacGregor

The police, in their defense, say that grabbing registration plates and details of speeders and criminals has led to tens of thousands of arrests. But there are notable failures of the system, which put into question if it often does more harm than good.

Several cases stand out. In one, a woman was killed by a known sex offender who had shown up eight times on the cam, yet nothing was done to prevent the killing. In another, a speeding police car hit a 16-year-old girl, killing her instantly, all because it was chasing a speeder. It later turned out that the information was out of date, but ANPR had failed to update the statistics on the driver.

“If we are going to bring proper accountability to CCTV and ANPR, the Commissioner needs proper powers to enforce the law. Without them his words, however sensible, will continue to fall on deaf ears,” Emma Carr the deputy director of Big Brother Watch believes. She is highlighting how Porter only has legal authority over cameras installed in public places, but cannot make the government comply with any regulations he sets forth.

But what has been developing side-by-side with the government’s indiscriminate data-gathering for the past three decades is also Britons’ own habit of snooping on each other – and that is regulated even more poorly, Porter explains.

People have fallen in love with buying little private CCTV cams that they obsessively use on their surroundings. With a range of around 20 meters, neighbors have been trying to catch each other performing dastardly acts, and later enjoying exposing each other as they settled differences.

But the laws that may apply to government-controlled cameras, weak as they are, do not apply to private, affordable CCTV cams, allowing people to use them as they please and for whatever purpose, it turns out.

Comments (17)


mergon 22.04.2014 11:45

Ever noticed in police programs how grainy and or out of focus police cams are for the public ?

Yet they have hi def cams that can read the time on your watch at 400 yds , police are fitted with cams and sound recorders on their uniforms ,just odd that the police outside no 10 had none of these , all of the film in the local of princess Di,s accident went missing , and that was not the only case there have been lots of other cases , they want to film you ,but they wont let you film them !
And why wont the police say how many cams they have had to replace in the M1 junction 15 area ?


DoAskDoTell 21.04.2014 14:41

Uk gov is broke since before 2008 => QE gang IMF/WB/Fed/BoE/ECB.. . are all overleveraged (see $1000+ Trillion universe)
=> to pay mabsters o.t.univ.'s interest costs

1/war & distractions to inflate drones, tanks... values
2/Austeri ty for the 99% => 0.1% middle class LOL
3/cu t wasteful toy cars just for fat lazy fearful clueless numbskulls?


mergon 21.04.2014 08:56

Picture this your emitts an RF signal transmitted to roadside receivers in the new digital rd sign system and then relayed to control central ,if its an older vehicle without built in ECM gps unit they have numberplate recognition ,if you are speeding your flagged up to the cams that lock on your plate and track you.
In Dorset UK more pod cams are springing up on main roads at the approach to roundabouts and main junctions ,for the country lanes with links to main roads /motorways they have solar powered cams, ,they have cams inside the new digital road signs
they have them everywhere !

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