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You and Yours on CCTV

The Radio 4 magazine-style programme You and Yours interviewed the Surveillance Camera Commissioner Tony Porter on its Tuesday lunchtime edition, January 27. You can listen to the coverage on the BBC website. Mark Rowe writes:

While Tony Porter did not say anything that he has not already said on public platforms – such as the Professional Security ST14 events at Manchester and Heathrow last year – his points about the limits to CCTV as a surveillance tool have been picked up by the press.

For instance Tony Porter, a former senior Greater Manchester Police man, quoted a former Information Commissioner Richard Thomas that the UK is in danger of ‘sleepwalking’ into a surveillance state.

The mainstream press also picked up the comment by Tony Porter that some cameras either are not well sited to do a job or are simply not functioning. Porter was only applying the surveillance camera code principles, including that CCTV use should be proportionate – in other words, if there’s not the call for a camera, take it down or don’t install it there in the first place.

However critics of CCTV are surely wanting it both ways – either CCTV is so powerful that it is turning the country into a ‘surveillance state’, or it’s not powerful because it’s not bringing results and is a waste of money – which is it?! As Tony Porter did point out, CCTV is a ‘tool’ and can be a useful tool; depending on how the piece of kit, like any other, is applied, whether by local government or any other human user. While CCTV does not deter or prevent crime, it can detect – if the images are of good enough quality, and if the footage is picked up by police.

The amount of comment generated by Tony Porter’s radio interview shows that CCTV, being public, is one of those things that anyone can have an opinion about, like football hooliganism; and that Tony Porter as commissioner, besides public space CCTV, has various constituencies to address: the public, that is not expert in CCTV but is paying for public space cameras as monitored by councils and used as evidence by police and in courts; the users of CCTV, the ones that (voluntarily) can apply the camera code of practice; the councillors that are having to cut budgets including CCTV; and the government that appointed Tony Porter.


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