Most locals want more CCTV surveillance

Contributed by editor on Nov 21, 2007 - 09:22 PM

The Prosser Perspective.... a weekly column from Dover and Deal MP Gwyn Prosser

22 November 2007


When Kent Police first started introducing Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras some five or six years ago I spent an interesting morning at one of their control centres in Canterbury learning a little more about the scheme.

I was already familiar with the technology and supportive of the practice because Dover Harbour Board had been pioneering the process for some time and they’d shared with me the successes of the system.

That being said I was somewhat taken aback during my Canterbury visit when the operator was able to capture and display film footage of me driving my car into the City that morning – and more worrying perhaps – when they then went on to exhibit four more images of my car travelling through Canterbury on separate occasions over the proceeding six months.

My Canterbury experience came flooding back to me this week during our Select Committee’s inquiry into – what’s been described in some quarters as – The Surveillance Society. We are looking at issues as diverse as the massive expansion that has taken place in the provision of closed circuit TV cameras to the most sophisticated kinds of IT encryption and identity fraud.

Surveillance has always been the subject of controversy and I can well remember the heated debates we had in Dover District Council way back in 1987 when the town’s very first CCTV cameras were being considered. There was much talk of George Orwell and Big Brother but twenty years on we have more CCTV cameras per head of population than anywhere else in the world and most constituents are asking for more.

However, our inquiry ranges far wider than CCTV surveillance - we have been looking at public agency access to private databases, the case for introducing privacy impact assessments, data sharing and the potential abuse of private databases by criminals.

But perhaps the most important element of our work is the exploration of the existing safeguards for data use and whether they are strong enough. During the last few months our committee have been told about all sorts of complex and sophisticated technologies which are being developed to keep our private information private.

One of our witnesses was Ross Anderson, the Professor of Security Engineering at Cambridge University. I asked him to look twenty years hence and predict whether the State would hold more information about us or less. He said they would hold more information but it would be better regulated – there would be more safeguards in place.

The Professor’s confidence might give us some comfort for the future but what of today? This week we’ve heard the astounding news that the personal records and banking details of 25 million individuals have gone missing, not because of some high-tech hacking exercise but because a junior member of HMRC ignored the regulations and sent out two non recorded, unregistered computer discs to the National Audit Office – and they have been lost in the post!