Thursday, 31 July 2008

A Policy, not an operational matter

In various exchanges of correspondence, the details of which I am restricted from discussing by unwarrented 'Private' labels, there has been one repeated feature of note:

It is clear that the majority of your elected officials believe that CCTV is a operational, and not a Policy concern.

Letters that I have written to councillors, have in certain cases been forwarded to the local authority officals responsible for implementing CCTV. I am not concerned about CCTV's implementation. I am sure that it is implemented very well. No one that we know of has been struck by a falling lens cap of electricuted by some faulty wiring. If they had no doubt, I would have been in touch with Fife Community Safety Partnership.

The problem is the principle. White van man, let's call him, Mr. Y, put it best of all:

Me: Terrible to have this CCTV everywhere.
Mr. Y: Oh, I know, an absolute disgrace. Isn't it awful how ready we are to hand over our liberties. Called Radio Scotland about it the other day. The usual hang'em and flog'em brigade was on. I said that it was their defensive attitude that got us into this position.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Support from Kirkcaldy Central Councillor

Liberal Democrat councillor for Kirkcaldy Central, Alice Soper, has written to us indicating a large measure of agreement with the campaign.

In her letter, she writes, "I totally agree with your concerns about the proliferation of cameras, not only because they invade privacy but also because of the way these are monitored. ... I do not agree with their widespread use in all public areas."

However, she demures that they "may be useful in some situations, eg where there is a known problem with anti-social behaviour and where the camera can identify the culprits for prosecution. ... In one current situation, I have agreed to a mobile camera being used to identify and provide evidence against some young miscreants, who have been alarming residents for years. Similarly, I agreed to this camera being used to identify another group of young people who were threatening elderly people to buy them alcohol at local shops. So. basically I believe it is a 'final resort' when all else has failed, where there are issues such as these involved."

All else being equal, we would encourage you to vote for champions for personal privacy such as Cllr. Soper, who are willing to take a stand and say that they so not agree with the widespread use of CCTV in public areas.

That said, and although not conversant with the full facts of the two cases mentioned, I would suggest that perhaps a more personal approach would run less risk of alienating the young people involved. Who are the young people's parents, what are their dependencies, what level of personal discipline is their in their homes, why aren't they in school? If we expect them to act as dignified and law-abiding members of the community it must be better to find a punishment that upholds their dignity as citizens and persons, rather than eroding it.

We cannot expect them to become forgiving members of society that keep no record of wrongs, if we keep a record of their misdemeanours in perpetuity. A short, sharp punishment, that the miscreant can move on from, changed, must be the better option.

And we must not lose the ability to judge character and deal with people on a human level. Remember that courts in this country were handing out - largely - fair judgements for centuries before CCTV. You cross-examine witnesses, look for contradictions in their evidence, you invite character witnesses to speak for or against the defendant and prosecuting party.

The trial in 1765 of Joseph Barretti is one of the best examples of this. A distinguished lexicographer, he stumbled into the wrong area of London one night - he was nearly blind at this time - and was propositioned in a lewd manner by a prostitute who he slapped. Seeing a foreigner raise a hand to a woman, a mob gathered round him and worried him and as he was running for his life, he struck out at a man with a short knife he had been carrying - then permitted. The Welshman fell, mortally wounded.

Barretti was given shelter in a nearby house, with the mob demanding he be released.

The trial was entirely reliant and witness statements. In it, a number of leading members of society were able to stand up for the pacifistic and public spirited character of the defendant. He refused to have six Italians on the jury, though he was owned of this right. Gradually the contradictions in the prosecuting party's position began to be confronted, and Barretti himself, despite the hostile feeling against him, was acquitted. This quiet man continued in the country until his death, a loyal British citizen.

CCTV used for Litter

You will remember that the mobile CCTV unit's visit to the High Street was discussed in our last blog entry. It now transpires that this hugely expensive bit of equipment, with its operators and back-up was actually being used to catch litterers. What a waste! - if you excuse the pun. Yes, litter is a problem. Yes, to knowingly throw litter is an offence. But to spend a fortune like this on such minor crime is the proverbial sledgehammer to crack a monkey nut. And remember, the whole area was already covered by other cameras!

Further to the incident related in the previous entry, my mole informs me that the picture of me being confronted by the mobile CCTV crew is now in general circulation. A whole range of council officials and para-police types have now seen it. Responsible use of public property, if ever I saw it.

Was ever a better illustration needed of CCTV-groupies' complete disregard for personal privacy? Even if I had committed a minor crime, this sort of dissemination would have been completely unjustified.

Have you seen the images? How far have they travelled? Write now to c/o Mr D McHutcheon, 120 Commercial Street, Kirkcaldy, Fife, KY1 2NX.

Once again though, we are not anti-Police. This is about protecting the individual citizen's right to privacy.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Mobile CCTV

On Tuesday, 20th May 2008, a Mobile CCTV unit was parked in the middle of Kirkcaldy High Street. The day was hot, clear and sunny. The street busy with shoppers. The entire area that the mobile CCTV van could cover was already covered by other CCTV cameras.

Either this was a show of force, a thoughtless use of resources, or - as the operator, who bounced out of the van and accosted me for staring at it in an obtrusive manner, said - it is a necessary evil. An evil, indeed.

I was told that if I had a problem with CCTV, I should ring the number on the side of the van, the number of the Fife Community Safety Partnership: 01592-418888. Given that this is - by implication - the number to call for complaints about CCTV, I would encourage anyone with an interest in the area to call this number and register your objection.

Simply remember this: it should be the expectation of every liberal and democratic townsperson that the final say in matters of local policing belongs to democratic institutions. This is not an executive policy matter. It is a matter political in the proper sense of the word.

Opening Remarks

Welcome to the blog!

To object to CCTV in "today's inconnected world" is to hold an unfashionable minority viewpoint. This is the preserve of old-Labour socialists, recalcitrant liberals, hard-nosed Tories, human rights lawyers, privacy activists, data protection campaigners, hoodies, Victor Meldrew types, visitors from overseas or returning ex-pats, conspiracy theorists, gloommongers, hippy visionaries, peaceniks and constitutionalists. This is the awkward squad. But boy what a coalition this awkward squad represents!

Our cause - first and foremost - is a principled one. We value the privacy of the individual citizen and the dignity of our community at large - here, in Kirkcaldy. Without privacy, there can be no dignity. Privacy is a right, while dignity lies at the heart of our humanity.

CCTV is an infringement on your privacy. By this means, the state builds up an unduly detailed picture of our lives. In future, all of your errors, stumbles, bloody noses, bad hair days, confrontations, romantic moments - the private matter of public places - will become the property of the state to be duplicated and disseminated in a manner entirely outwith of your control.

Society functioned for better and worse without CCTV and public surveillance in general for millenia past. Increasingly, we are replacing natural, organic relations, with filtered, atomised, virtual existences. Our neighbourliness - as Fifers never exactly one of our more famed characteristics - will suffer as we substitute spontaneous, interpersonal lives for mediated dependencies controlled by a state bureaucracy whose function is to mechanise and saniticise vital, natural instincts.

Like the right to protest. Like the right to associate with real police officers as they walk the street in their professional capacity of guardians of the law. Like the right not to have CCTV operators learn all manner of details of your proclivities, habits, tastes, waking hours. Like the right not to have you stumble down a manhole or dress tear beamed around the world for popular entertainment.

Your privacy and - therefore - your dignity is at the heart of the matter. This is not a question about crime. Surveys have shown that the impact of CCTV on relevant crime in covered areas is four percent, and that is before the displacement issue is taken into account.

We must have the utmost of respect for the Police. I would love to see the day that the Police are respected - not feared - in Kirkcaldy, in a way that they haven't been since the first few post-war years. To do this they must be seen and known. The money saved by dismantling the CCTV network should be ringfenced for Policing. This is not an anti-Police campaign movement. The Police are at the heart of successful communities.

Fellow langtonians, now is the time to make your voices heard. Ask your elected representatives where they stand on this issue. Make your vote contingent on a respect of civil privacy and human dignity. It is time for CCTV to be banned in all public places in Kirkcaldy.