Letter: Cameras a threat to civil liberties

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The Independent Online
Sir: Stewart Hennessey reports ('Long lens of the law', 6 July) about plans to install television monitoring cameras in many British inner cities to combat crime. While he states that there are some civil liberties objections to these plans, he does not seek to explain what these might be, but none the less asserts that 'arguments over civil liberties seem to have collapsed in the face of fear of crime'.

In spite of the dismissive tone of the article, surveillance of whole communities does raise fundamental questions. These cameras will monitor not only muggers and hooligans, but also citizens going about their private (lawful) business - even if that business is not always something they would wish to disclose, or involves matters frowned upon by the establishment. Presumably, they will record people attending 'gay' bars, or clients of sex shops or brothels, or betting shops, as well as people attending meetings of radical fringe groups on the political left or right.

Who operates the cameras? Who owns the tapes containing this information? To whom are they made available? Does this include MI5? Private firms? Individuals involved in civil or criminal litigation? The press? Under what conditions are the tapes disclosed to such bodies? Who controls the use of these tapes? When are they erased, if ever?

Has any thought been given to compliance with the data protection principles? Is anyone supervising these developments? Is the Data Protection Registrar?

If ever there was an area calling out for proper, and strict, regulation, this is it. Or will these issues (like so many others) need to be resolved elsewhere, in Strasbourg or Luxembourg, by foreign judges with, perhaps, a better understanding of civil liberties in the 'information era'?

Yours sincerely,




6 July