Print 41 comment(s) - last by MekhongKurt.. on May 19 at 3:50 AM

Surveillance operators monitor CCTV feeds in London.  (Source: The Guardian)
Rights groups outraged

Hot off the heels of news indicating that widespread civic CCTV deployment has little meaningful impact on crime, new reports indicate that local UK governments are using CCTV to prosecute petty crimes, including cases of littering, the misuse of a disabled parking passes, and dog owners who fail to clean up after their pets in public.

According to the BBC, local authorities have abused the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) more than 100 times in the past 12 months, based off of interviews with 46 out of the 468 local governments in the UK.

In one of the more infamous examples, a government council admitted that it invoked RIPA in order to track a family that it suspected was living outside of a school’s admissions area. James Welch, legal director for rights group Liberty, called the abuse a “ridiculously disproportionate use of RIPA,” noting that it would “undermine public trust in necessary and lawful surveillance.”

RIPA was passed in 2000, in response to a rapidly-growing usage of the internet and strong encryption. The law both allowed and governed the use of surveillance, interception, and “covert human intelligence sources” in efforts to combat crime and terrorism.

Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti compared the government’s current scandal with CCTV to using a sledgehammer to crack nuts. Her group, as well as others such as Privacy International, called for a complete, “root and branch” review of the country’s surveillance and privacy laws.

Accusations against local governments are compounded by a number of recently-arising facts, including one that found that only 3% of street robberies in London are solved with CCTV-gathered images – despite the UK’s highest per-capita deployment of surveillance cameras in the world. One such report, published in The Guardian, attributes their lack of use to police investigator laziness and citizens’ lack of fear due to the fact that they think that the “cameras are not working.” Police departments attributed it to a lack of meaningful collaboration, and have since called on work to produce a national database of offenders.

“There are strict rules to protect people from unnecessary intrusion,” said Local Government Association chairman Sir Simon Milton. “Whenever a council applies to use these powers they must prove that it is both necessary and proportionate to the crime being investigated.”

Chakrabarti was not satisfied, however: “There are better ways to achieve the objectives without using counter-terrorism laws,” she said.

“You can care about serious crime and terrorism without throwing away our personal privacy with a snoopers' charter.”

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By MekhongKurt on 5/19/2008 3:50:37 AM , Rating: 2
I have to agree it's unacceptable to use anti-terrorism laws to go after some minor offender.

By the way, many years ago I worked awhile as a policeman in a very small town in Texas, and a much longer while in a private security patrol company working closely with local police in a rather large city. So, I'm not exactly anti-cop.

The cameras themselves are less problematic (for me, anyway) -- in public settings -- than are abuses of laws. Yes, if someone's trying to sneak his kid into a school whose zone doesn't include his home, sure, that's wrong. But don't go after him as if he's a terrorist , for heaven's sake.

Here in Bangkok the police have been using more and more cameras, and while deployment of the devices has sparked considerable controversy, there's a rather large group who feel as long as the cameras are used for their intended purposes, then fine.

I don't know about in Britain, but in my home country (and here) I'd sure like to see genuinely strong laws aimed at abusers, especially police.

Of course, one rationale for the cameras here is highly controversial: sending officers out with cameras to photograph drivers violating traffic laws. Officialdom's defense is if a driver is mailed a ticket, then he or she won't have to go through the unpleasant routine of an officer demanding a bribe, which is extremely widespread here. But some people distrust the police to stay within bounds. (And there's considerable reason for such distrust.)

Some observers have expressed displeasure at the notion of goons with guns -- police -- enforcing anti-litter laws and the like.

When I was a policeman, not once did I have occasion to have my weapon out. Not once. In my security work, yes, I sometimes did, but it sure wasn't to tell someone to shut the rubbish bin or other minor infractions. (And I never fired my gun in nearly 10 years, not on duty, except when I had to go to the range for semi-annual re-qualification.)

Some police operate under pretty strict rules, and while yes, some cops do ignore them, they could find themselves in deep trouble. Just look at the several high-profile cases in the U.S. in recent years. I'm sure there must be similar protective restraints in some countries, not just the U.S.

I know, I know -- "Who guards the guardians?" There are ways, in some jurisdictions, that even we, the ordinary folks, can play our own small parts in keeping honest cops honest. And we can push our governments to crackdown on abuses -- hard.

Now, if someone starts placing a surveillance system in my home , then that's a different kettle of fish entirely!

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