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David Davis says that the CCTV cameras are not working well enough

Much has been said about David Davis’s motives for doing what he’s doing. He is vain. He is mad. He is bored. My opinion? He is a politician. Politicians are vain, often mad. Politics is mostly very boring. I say: Who cares what Davis’s reasons are for saying what he is saying, and doing what he is doing? What matters is what messages he is sending out and what impact, if any, they will have.

I applaud Davis for communicating a general unease concerning civil liberties. What Davis said in his campaign blog yesterday about the DNA database will surely please our own Guy Herbert, if it has not done so already :

…why should a million innocent people and 100,000 children be kept on the DNA database? This is the state exceeding its powers.

Indeed. However, Herbertians may also be somewhat surprised and not a little distressed by what Davis said in that same posting, immediately above that bit about the DNA database, on the subject of CCTV cameras:

… I have been explaining that I am not against CCTV – but if it is going to be used the cameras should be able to provide clear images and all of the evidence should be usable in court. Currently only 20% is usable. At the moment we just have a placebo effect for Citizen UK.

His objection to the cameras is: that they do not work well enough! We are not, in this matter as in so many others, getting as much government as we are paying for. Of the possible damage to British society that might result from it being constantly spied on by officialdom, with very good cameras, for which David Davis will surely not have to wait long, he says, at any rate in this posting, nothing.

As I say, David Davis is a politician. Be thankful for small mercies, but do not assume any large ones from this man.

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17 comments to David Davis says that the CCTV cameras are not working well enough

  • Kevin B

    As I say, David Davis is a politician.

    You missed a word out. David Davis is a Conservative politician, and in this matter he is probably in touch with his base. They probably want better CCTV cameras, and a copper on every corner as well as plenty of patrol cars driving up and down, (going after real criminals, not bothering them for doing 35 in a 30 limit). How’s that for being constantly spied on by officialdom.

    The issue with CCTV, whether in public or private places, can only be access. Who has access to the recordings and on what authority.

    Do stores have the right to install and monitor cameras throughout their shops to catch thieves ripping them off? Does the public, through their elected representatives and the justice system, have the right to install and monitor cameras in public places to catch criminals?

    I remember an old Asimov story that attempted to deal with the issue of the surveillance state. (It must have been old since the giant computer that stored all the data was called multivac). His proposed solution was that everybody had access to all the records.

    David Brill has written extensively on this as well.

    The depressing fact is that we will have to get used to it and the only thing we can control is who gets to monitor it and on what conditions.

  • James

    This is nothing new from Davis, although it seems as though it is something that people have only just picked up on.

    Although I still disagree with the fundamental belief that we need CCTV and lots of it, I can appreciate an aspect of what he’s saying. That CCTV evidence that could have been admissable were it not for its poor quality means that the only real use for maintaining such a system is to instill a feeling that the panopticon is watching you. Either that, or just blatant voyeurism. It serves no purpose in crime detection and merely infringes our civil rights.

  • Yes, this is is right. I don’t doubt that Davis is doing this for selfish reasons, but the fight is still worth fighting for all that.

    His position on CCTV is wrong though, and I see this as being a critical part of the debate now. People want to know how they are going to be kept safe on the streets and they see CCTV as part of this. The idea that they might take responsibility for their own safety will not have occurred to more than a tiny fraction.

    That’s the argument that needs to be made, IMHO. Do we want to end up like America, with guns everywhere? Most people would say “no”, I’m sure. Perhaps they would feel differently if it is explained to them that the alternative is to end up like North Korea.

  • …civilian in charge of a Worcester police station’s surveillance team was suspended after detectives found, among one day’s footage, a 20-minute sequence of close-ups of a woman’s cleavage and backside as she walked oblivious through the streets… …But the offending monitor escaped with a warning and was – unbelievably – back in post within weeks.

    This, and much more here.

  • Nick,

    I believe there is a “Penn & Tellers’ B.S” episode that investigates the proclivities of people with cameras.

    IIRC, they found that even when their subjects* thought they were supposed to be monitoring suspected terrorists a bit of hanky panky next door was sufficient to distract them.

    *Admittedly these were folks that believed homeland security was going to give them on the job training.

  • James

    Well it’s pretty much a given that mass surveilance like CCTV is pretty ineffective when you’re talking national security. For a start the sheer volume of CCTV cameras means you have too much information, more than ninety nine per cent of it will be totally irrelevant. We may be able to watch the 7/7 bombers on CCTV footage and put it on the news, but the operators didn’t and probably couldn’t identify them as a threat before they splattered themselves all over public transport. The security uses of mass surveilance like CCTV are overstated.

    IIRC, they found that even when their subjects* thought they were supposed to be monitoring suspected terrorists a bit of hanky panky next door was sufficient to distract them.

    It should also be pointed out that distractions such as people shagging within the arcs of a camera could be a deliberate attempt at distraction.

  • James

    Well it’s pretty much a given that mass surveilance like CCTV is pretty ineffective when you’re talking national security. For a start the sheer volume of CCTV cameras means you have too much information, more than ninety nine per cent of it will be totally irrelevant. We may be able to watch the 7/7 bombers on CCTV footage and put it on the news, but the operators didn’t and probably couldn’t identify them as a threat before they splattered themselves all over public transport. The security uses of mass surveilance like CCTV are overstated.

    IIRC, they found that even when their subjects* thought they were supposed to be monitoring suspected terrorists a bit of hanky panky next door was sufficient to distract them.

    It should also be pointed out that distractions such as people shagging within the arcs of a camera could be a deliberate attempt at distraction.

  • James

    Well it’s pretty much a given that mass surveilance like CCTV is pretty ineffective when you’re talking national security. For a start the sheer volume of CCTV cameras means you have too much information, more than ninety nine per cent of it will be totally irrelevant. We may be able to watch the 7/7 bombers on CCTV footage and put it on the news, but the operators didn’t and probably couldn’t identify them as a threat before they splattered themselves all over public transport. The security uses of mass surveilance like CCTV are overstated.

    IIRC, they found that even when their subjects* thought they were supposed to be monitoring suspected terrorists a bit of hanky panky next door was sufficient to distract them.

    It should also be pointed out that distractions such as people shagging within the arcs of a camera could be a deliberate attempt at distraction.

  • Ken Mitchell

    If you’re going to have CCTV in your building, then it ought to be clear enough to use it to actually IDENTIFY the criminal. We’ve seen dozens of times when TV news has shown the bank (or 7-11 store) surveillance picture of the crook and shown only a gray blob on the screen.

    CCTV cameras, though, are like everything else related to “security”; it’s as stylized and as meaningless as kabuki theater.

  • Pa Annoyed

    I guess, then, it lies somewhere between eye-witness statements and fingerprints in the list of effective tools for preventing crime and promoting security.

  • Vinegar Joe

    Do we want to end up like America, with guns everywhere? Most people would say “no”, I’m sure.

    Do Americans want to end up like Europe with massive war memorials and military graveyards everywhere? Most people would say “no”, I’m sure. Personally, I think we need more guns. I’m wanting to pick up one of the new Colt 10mm Deltas soon to be released.

  • Double-D

    The whole Davis stunt is starting to smell……

  • Why worry, when you turn up with a good camera, your local council will ban you from using it!

  • I agree with James and Ken Mitchell in thinking that Davis makes a partially valid point. The quality of images from CCTV systems needs to be sufficient to identify individuals: the evidence they collect is useless otherwise. Likewise, cameras should be installed so they are actually capable of capturing images of faces. Lenses on 10m posts look down on nothing but the tops of heads (and blouses, apparently…). However, as I have previously noted, calling for better CCTV doesn’t imply support for more CCTV. This is where I too part company with Davis.

    I fear the CCTV genie cannot be persuaded back into its bottle by rational argument, as public perception and the psychology of security theatre have significant bearing on the current situation, however I think we should be pressing for a massive reduction in CCTV covareage; effective regulation and licensing of schemes that can be proven useful; and improved installation- and technical standards all round.

  • Paul Marks

    Actually Mr Davis gives several reasons for being opposed to the overuse of CCTV.

    And as Mr Davis tends to repeat himself when asked this question I find it hard to believe that you do not know about his reasons Brian.

    As for David Davis destroying his front bench career for wicked motives, or out of a “stunt” that “smells”.

    Such comments are only worthy of contempt.

  • Midwesterner

    Oh my. Here(Link) is the secret to making them work.

    Link courtesy of Reason and Instapundit.

  • Well said by David Davis. By using poor CCTV security cameras not working issue is creating around. I think we need to install high quality CCTV cameras to monitor criminal movement in the street, office or home. Thanks.