Letters: CCTV, crime and our liberty

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CCTV is vital to the protection of our society, and the security industry is dedicated to ensuring it is used responsibly (“New HD CCTV puts human rights at risk”, 3 October). It is, in fact, possible to safeguard civil liberties while making effective use of CCTV systems.

Over 3,000 arrests were made as a direct result of CCTV technology following last year’s August riots, in addition to the pivotal role it also played in the investigation of the 7/7 bombings. In public areas, CCTV does play a positive role in providing public safety and supporting police in their endeavours to detect crime.

On the issue of HD cameras and algorithms being able to spot individual events or individual people from great distances, it should come as no surprise that camera technology is continually evolving. No matter how advanced CCTV technology becomes, it’s what you do with the images that matters, and there are strict rules set down by the Information Commissioner on this.

The quotation from Andrew Rennison that “the capability is there to run your image against a database of wanted people” implies that this is a negative aspect of surveillance technology. In fact such accuracy in identifying known criminals should only be of concern to those who have committed a crime, and should reduce the risk of innocent people being wrongly accused of a crime.

The British Security Industry Association and its members have welcomed the Protection of Freedoms Act and the introduction of carefully thought-out regulation, provided adequate consultation takes place.

Alex Carmichael

Technical Director, British Security Industry Association, Worcester

In 1940 Edgar Hoover started collecting information on Albert Einstein, when he was seen attending pacifist meetings. After the war Einstein realised he was being watched and said: “I made a mistake in selecting America as a land of freedom, a mistake I cannot repair in the balance of my lifetime.” When he died his FBI dossier ran to thousands of pages.

Charlie Chaplin was a friend of Einstein. Thanks to Hoover, Chaplin, a British citizen, was banished from the USA in 1952. Hoover subsequently kept him on the list of those to be arrested in case of national emergency. When Chaplin was invited to Los Angeles in 1972 to receive a special Oscar, Hoover lobbied against granting him a visa. Chaplin’s FBI file ran to 1,900 pages.

In 1947 President Truman, who saw what Hoover was up to, wrote to his wife: “Edgar Hoover’s organisation would make a good start towards a citizen spy system. Not for me.”

So rather than suggesting that Mr Rennison is reading too much Orwell, Keith O’Neill (letter, 5 October) should read The Secret Life of J Edgar Hoover by Anthony Summers, where he will find more evidence to repudiate the fallacy that those, like Jeremy Bacon (letter, 5 October), who believe they have nothing to hide have nothing to fear.

John Hughes

Brentford, Middlesex

Messrs Keith O’Neill and Jeremy Bacon (letters, 5 October) are of the view that those with nothing to hide need not fear the installation of high-definition CCTV cameras in public places. The cameras are said to be 90 per cent certain of recognising a face in a crowd. This seems to leave a 10 per cent chance that it may recognise an innocent person as someone else entirely.

Suppose it were one of these perfectly innocent gentlemen who was mistaken for, say, a known paedophile on a police “wanted” list. In my opinion if not Big then certainly Medium-Sized Brother is indeed watching us.

P White

London NW1

Secret drone attacks on Pakistan

The carnage wreaked by the USA’s drones close to where I was a college principal until recently was brought home by your article on 25 September. But I believe your map omits the devastation of a madrasa in Bajaur in late autumn 2006, which killed 85 students and led to the cancellation of a visit to my college by the Prince of Wales.

The Pakistan government accepted responsibility at the time but last autumn in London General Musharraf told me that it was a US drone, which my students had told me at the time.

Not only are far more innocent civilians killed than we are told, but it appears that more drone attacks take place than are officially admitted.

David L Gosling

Cambridge

American drones are doing to Pakistani civilians what German V-1 “doodlebugs” did to Londoners in the Second World War. They convince them that only a peculiar evil could conceive such a terror and bring it on to innocents. Likewise they stiffen and radicalise resolve against the perpetrators.

David Gibbs

London SW4

Stand up for students

I know that for many years now it has been the habit to deride students, but John Walsh’s comments on student life (5 October) as “three years of hoggish indulgence, erotic experiment and cyberspatial plagiarism” is nasty, absurd and envious.

I have taught literature in universities in the UK and across the world for almost 40 years, and it has been an excitement and a privilege. Obviously I don’t know that much (any longer) about erotic experiment, although any bunch of late teens not thus engaged would seem to me clearly weird; but I do know that many of my students have been clever, engaged, even committed to that old-fashioned thing, the life of the mind.

What I don’t understand is why students don’t stand up for themselves. Where is the National Union of Students when it’s needed? If there is one thing I deeply regret about today’s students, it is that they don’t understand the political dimensions of what they’re studying; but although that may make them ideological victims, it doesn’t make them hoggish (which is also an insult to hogs), indolent or inclined towards plagiarism at a time when they are, at last, able to spend time truly discovering things for themselves with, I may add, the assistance of a body of dedicated teachers.

David Punter

Professor of English

University of Bristol

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown writes (1 October): ‘In the past, educationalists were expected to exercise “moral turpitude” even at university. That has gone.’

Moral turpitude means depravity, and Ms Alibhai-Brown’s mistake is entertaining, but presumably what she was trying to say is that high moral standards are a thing of the past among university teachers. That is a serious charge, for which she offers no evidence. I recently retired from a lectureship at a UK university, where the boundaries between teacher and learner remain clear, and abuse of trust to form personal relationships continues to be unacceptable.

Some teachers at both school and university level may abuse their positions, but for Ms Alibhai-Brown to declare that a whole profession has abandoned its standards will do nothing to strengthen the protection of students.

Dr David Young

Lancing, West Sussex

Britain’s victims in Kenya

I hope the government will stand up and condemn what a previous UK government, in another time, did in Kenya.

To continue to appeal against the judgment that has condemned the British government’s behaviour during the Mau Mau rebellion would be humiliating and shameful. To do so when the victims are all elderly and infirm in the hope that they will die before justice is seen to be done would indeed be morally repugnant.

For some lawyers, barristers and civil servants cases like these can become an intellectual game, an opportunity to cross swords and explore the niceties of arguments. For the victims and for the standing of our nation in the world, it is none of those things; it is a sordid episode in our nation’s history and the least we can do is to ensure the victims receive compensation that will give them dignity and support in old age.

Christian Vassie

York

Political language

It may well have been, as David Pollard says, “important for Nick Clegg to apologise to the party for breaking his pledge” (letter, 6 October), but it was also irrelevant. Clegg is in office not through the votes of the Lib Dem party members at their conference, but because many left-leaning voters, disillusioned with New Labour, saw a Lib Dem vote as the best way to avoid a Conservative government. I suspect he won’t get those votes again, no matter how much he apologises.

Gerard Bell

Ascot, Berkshire

A reporter asked Andrew Mitchell, “Did you call the policeman a pleb?” There are two possible answers to that question, “Yes” or “No”. Mr Mitchell replied: “I did not use the words attributed to me.” That is why politicians are regarded with suspicion.

Peter Mulholland

Clitheroe, Lancashire

Unwanted

The Tories don’t want to abort unwanted children (“Hunt: I believe abortion limit should be 12 weeks”, 6 October). They don’t want to house them. They don’t want to feed them properly. They don’t want to educate them adequately. They don’t want to employ them. They don’t want to pay them benefits. About the only thing they want to do is eventually put them in prison.

Martin London

Henllan, Denbighshire

Rail boss

How could it be possible that the Government got the West Coast rail franchise bids so wrong that it will cost £40m to sort out, while it took Sir Richard Branson to prove the massive errors in these calculations. Sir Richard Branson should be appointed as senior consultant to the Department for Transport.

Dennis Grattan

Aberdeen

UK sold off

The Government is worried about the implications for national defence of too great a dependence on French and German companies following the merger between BAE and EADS. If successive governments had shown the same concern for the electricity industry, perhaps we would not be facing the growing prospect of the lights going out in three to four years’ time.

John Krispinussen

Chippenham, Wiltshire

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