Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Big Brother is watching YOU!

It has finally been recognised by the government that there is a serious problem in Gibraltar with anti-social behaviour - something that has long been highlighted in this paper, only to fall on deaf ears.

Now, the crisis is considered such that CCTV cameras are to be installed in the city centre and outlying areas. And this is only the beginning of CCTV cameras spreading all over, which will raise questions about the invasion of privacy.

Gibraltar is a small place - surely there are other ways of countering the spread of anti-social behaviour? Or are the relevant authorities telling us that they have failed and that the only recourse they can think of is to start installing CCTV cameras?

In much bigger communities, where CCTV has been installed, the problems for their need have not been fully resolved. Will the same happen in Gibraltar?

The point being made elsewhere is that, while CCTV technology is becoming more sophisticated, regulation and safeguards have not kept apace.


Innovations include cameras that are combined with databases using 'facial recognition technology' to scan and automatically identify people's faces in crowds and cameras with microphones attached to pick up the conversations, as well as the images, of those being watched.

CCTV images can be a valuable tool in crime detection and they have been used effectively in a number of high profile cases over the past few decades. CCTV is however not a silver bullet, says Liberty Human Rights organisation in the UK. Often CCTV images are not sufficiently good quality to be used in criminal courts and it is relatively easy for someone to evade CCTV if they want to. Some police forces admit that they will not use CCTV footage because of the time and costs involved.

Similarly, its effectiveness as a crime deterrent is far from proven. Britain's crime rates are comparable with countries with very few cameras and Home Office funded research has concluded that the impact of CCTV on crime prevention is not significant.

Questions are being asked why the money being spent on CCTV could not be spent on other crime prevention and detection measures.


The main concern being expressed in Britain is that CCTV is dangerously unregulated. There is no binding legislation governing where CCTV cameras can be placed or who can operate them. And data protection legislation governing how long the images can be kept and accessed, has failed to keep up with technological changes. Without detailed legislative regulation there is even greater potential for CCTV to be misused and abused and potential for unjustified intrusions into privacy.

The large-scale expansion of CCTV in recent years also poses a threat to our way of life. We are however unlikely to wake up one morning with the feeling that we are suddenly under much more surveillance than the day before. This is because surveillance apparatus is assembled in a piecemeal way and often under the radar. Too much surveillance can fundamentally alter the relationship between the individual and the State and the experience of widespread visual surveillance may well have a chilling effect on free speech and activity.

In Gibraltar we are being told that care has been taken to ensure that private dwelling houses have been blanked from the scope of any cameras in order to ensure there is no invasion of privacy. But misuse can happen, as happened in Merseyside were a woman in her bathroom was spied upon even though the camera was not meant to film inside her home.

The use of cameras, the storage of films, are matters which can lead to abuse.

The government is aware of the important civil rights issues that arise with the use of CCTV.

This is not a matter that can be rushed through. The government cannot speak of 'the benefits that the introduction of CCTV brings to bear on the detection of crime and as a deterrence of criminal conduct' - because such matters are not tried and tested in this community.

Besides, once cameras spread all over the place, in public places, will there not be a desire by those concerned to increase their numbers?

As we said at the beginning, this paper has long published concern about anti-social behaviour, yet nothing was done about it in a manner that could bring greater results. The authorities concerned have been denying the undeniable. Now, when the problem has escalated to new heights they can only think of introducing CCTV - what could be a threat to civil liberties and an intrusion to privacy.

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