David Aaronovitch has written an excellent column examining the common claim that “the average Brit is caught on security cameras some 300 times a day” .
The Evening Standard said the study stated that “the average Briton is caught on camera an astonishing 300 times every day”. It transpired that the document, entitled The Report of the Surveillance Society, was published in 2006 and had been praised by activists in the campaign against surveillance and what they see as the erosion of liberty. Its first line told readers: “We live in a surveillance society” and eight lines later referred to the fact of “CCTV which may capture our image several hundred times a day”.
The figure is a fictional figure created to “‘draw attention’ to the problem, not to help to decide whether or not a problem existed”. This is regrettable. We ought to have a sensible discussion based on real evidence and real threats to liberty. Does CCTV provide a threat to our liberty? Well, the evidence would appear to be mixed. Many would argue that CCTV increases their liberty to move unhindered by bullies and yobs. Does anybody really have a problem with the use of CCTV as evidence in the London Bombings? Or in the case of the mother recently convicted for neglect of her child?
During the trial, the court heard that Brown, who has three other children living in England and two more living in her native Jamaica, repeatedly tried to “cover her tracks” after the tragedy.
She claimed that Jodie Ann was alive and well when she returned from the hearing, and tried to persuade friends to tell police that they had been minding the toddler. But CCTV showed that Brown had been away from the house when the fire broke out.
Judge Ross said: “It is one of the ghastly features of this case that, whilst others struggled to revive Jodie – a task which, in truth, was impossible – the defendant was outside on her telephone starting the genesis of her false account.”
The same goes for the use of electronic databases, there are clearly some activities that are completely unacceptable. This is a good example:
The information watchdog has shut down a company which it says sold workers’ confidential data, including union activities, to building firms.
A raid on The Consulting Association in Droitwich, Worcs, revealed a serious breach of the Data Protection Act, the Information Commissioner’s Office said.
Following the raid on 23 February, investigators discovered that The Consulting Association’s database contained the details of some 3,213 workers, the ICO said.
Data included information concerning personal relationships, trade union activity and employment history, it added.
Comments included “lazy and a trouble stirrer”, “Ex shop steward. Definite problems. No Go” and “Communist Party”.
However, other databases that can be used for the efficient delivery of government services, the identification of individuals to prevent fraud, healthcare research and sociological research should not be subject to the same level of concern, although they should be subject to tough regulation and highly vigilant scrutiny.