ELECTRONIC eyes now quietly watch us as we go about our business, in every Kirklees urban centre, recording our every gesture and movement.
As CCTV technology improves, and the advocates of surveillance win more and more arguments, our lives will be recorded even more extensively and in ever finer detail.
Are we happy with this?
There’s an argument that you’ve nothing to fear from CCTV – closed circuit television – if you’re a regular, upstanding citizen.
Only the bad guys worry that they are being filmed.
But two issues continue to vex: infringements of our right to privacy, and miscarriages of justice based on camera-led assumptions.
Last week a House of Lords report demanded reforms in CCTV operating principles to safeguard democracy and privacy.
Kirklees now operates more than 100 cameras in Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Batley, Holmfirth, Honley and trouble hotspot Brackenhall.
There are many times that number of cameras operating on independent systems in council premises, offices, shops, building sites, bus and rail stations and so on.
The Kirklees CCTV video images are fed by fibre optic cable of phone line to a central control room in Huddersfield.
The carefully vetted staff can patch video through to the police if they spot a potentially criminal incident developing.
Video tapes are kept for a month, after which they are allegedly wiped. Only material wanted for use as evidence is kept longer.
Kirklees has its own regularly updated code of conduct for CCTV use, and it has been written with reference to the Data Protection and Human Rights acts, though some believe it is not always adhered to.
There are huge problems. The police use image ‘grabs’ with the phrase ‘we would like to speak to this person in connection with an incident at ...” and the public is accustomed to accepting this as a euphemism for “This is the person that did it.” Conviction by camera is an abuse of justice.
The Government’s own national CCTV strategy document of 2007 admitted that more than 80% of CCTV footage was ‘far from ideal’ for identification purposes, surely one of its primary intended functions.
The No CCTV organisation said recently: “Surveillance cameras clearly present a serious threat to privacy and civil liberties and the alleged trade-off of safety or security are unproven and vastly outweighed by the risk of creating a police state.”
In 2007 members of the London assembly found that CCTV had a negligible effect on solving crime. London has more than 10,000 state-run cameras.
Last year Kirklees’ CCTV control room was upgraded to process even more images. This enhancement looks set to continue.
At the time, former highways chief and Kirklees and Mirfield Clr Martyn Bolt said this: “CCTV cameras are proving very effective in reducing crime and the fear of crime. But they have to be in the right places. They are part of our overall strategy for crime prevention and detection.”
And so they remain, and so their numbers grow, despite doubts on their effectiveness and their potential for misuse.