Surveillance In The Uk Criminology Essay

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Scepticism about human rights is not a new phenomenon. The argument has often been made over the centuries that such rights do not exist but are merely a philosophers fancy; that they are contrary to the traditions of the common law; and that politically they infringe the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. Edmund Burke, an Irish Statesman (1729-1797), denounced certain personal rights as harbingers of revolution in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, stating that "Against these rights of men let no government look for security in the length of its continuance, or in the justice and lenity of its administration" (Burke, Harper and Brothers 1860, p. 481). What Burke really spoke against were specifically abstract or metaphysical rights. Rights divorced from a context of legal custom and tradition. Instead, he praised recorded rights, those which have been elaborated through the common law. Recorded rights can be rightly said to form the cornerstone of any modern democracy. However, with the advent of modern technology employed to enforce the law, debates have risen that are primarily concerned with the implications, moral and legal, of a nigh-constant surveillance of the British population, and which is only seen to be increasing with time.

In 2006 the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) published the Report on The Surveillance Society, which described how surveillance might, by 2017, impact various areas of social life - transport, shopping, workplaces, criminal justice, and more. However, its effect on schooling was only alluded to and not developed as well as the other areas. For this reason, Tom Bryce et al produced an article titled "Biometric Surveillance in Schools: Cause for concern or case for curriculum?" in which they describe a 2017 scenario involving a secondary school pupil called Caitlin. Too expansive for this particular essay, in brief summary Caitlin finds her every step monitored and logged throughout her day, involving chipped cards for registration, CCTV monitoring, CD homework hand-in to be scanned by plagiarism software, fingerprinting when renting out books at the library, and so on (Bryce, p.4-5). Tom Bryce et al present this scenario as a plausible addition to ICO's predictions, although they note a lack of systematic knowledge on school surveillance in Britain. Their paper utilizes a definition of the idea of "surveillance" presented by David Lyon in 2007 and which serves the purposes of this essay equally well:

[Surveillance] is the focussed, systematic and routine attention to personal details, for purposes of influence, management, protection or direction. Surveillance in the end directs its attention to individuals (even though aggregate data, such as those available in the public domain, may be used to build up a background image). […] This attention to personal details is not random, occasional or spontaneous: it is deliberate and depends on certain protocols and techniques. […] it occurs as a 'normal' part of everyday life in all societies that depend on bureaucratic administration and some kinds of information technology. Everyday surveillance is endemic to modern societies. (Lyon 2007, p. 14)

This definition, which encompasses watching, monitoring movement and the routinized authentication of identities, is applicable to both Tom Bryce et al's focus on schools as well as many other areas of British society. That surveillance could very well be "endemic to modern societies" signifies a recently emergent reality, involving surveillance for reasons of both welfare and control, which warrants detailed analysis.

Equally of worth is an analysis of the process of data-mining directed by British local authorities. Under the National Fraud Initiative (NFI), local authorities in Britain are required to provide a substantial amount of details to the Audit Commission of everyone who is on their payroll, who receives a pension, of trade creditors, tenants and residential leaseholders, and so on (Audit Commission, 2010). The obtained personal data is then subjected to computerised cross-referencing in a number of different ways, and is furthermore combined with information from other organisations that include government departments and private organisations: 1300 took part as of 2010 (National Report, 14). In this case of governmental data-mining, the practice has in some way been deemed legitimate as a method of combating such problems as pension fraud. As Guy Herbert states in his article ("They've Got Your Number: The Silent Boom in Mass Surveillance, 2011"), there is no overt problem with checking whether anyone on a list of pensioners is deceased or not. Even so, the broader principle that is being promoted by the Audit Commission (AC hereafter) and the NFI is that a zero tolerance of fraud justifies the collection, sharing and investigation of data about millions of people - involving information about where they live and with whom, and details of their work and finances. The AC declares in a 2009 summary: "…The right tone from the top in an organisation is vital, as is a zero-tolerance approach towards fraud" (Audit Commission, 7). The problem with the AC's zero tolerance stance is that real world situations often give rise to ambiguities and mistakes. The determination to drive out any evil, at any cost, inherently means those costs tend to rise indefinitely high (Herbert, paragraph 7). Herbert estimates, based on the NFI report, that the AC found 3.5 million data matches in its last round of data mining, of which 5% matches were rated urgent, implying as many as 175,000 investigations, but the overall unsuccessful investigations numbered 125,000. Herbert further notes that the AC does not state the financial costs of said investigations (Herbert, paragraphs 8-9). Herbert's analysis of the AC's reports suggests that the efforts made in garnering the personal information of millions of UK citizens eventually gained little useable information proportioned to the limited success rate and the curiously missing accounting.

Of course, in the public sphere, perception in many ways constitutes reality: being seen to do something in many respects is more important than actually doing it. Public relations (PR) practices are tools that are understandably utilized by both private and public institutions for present themselves. However, the difference between private and public materialises in the fact that private companies risk bankruptcy should they draw too much ire from their customers. The dilemma surrounding public institutions is that they are essentially monopolies - to a lesser or greater extent based on checks and balances. Furthermore, with a lack of real competition it is nigh-impossible for centralised press offices and communication protocols not to face suspicion from members of the public, and it is largely by a diversity of opinion and said public scrutiny that some level of accountability exists. As noted by Heather Brooke as an example of civic investigative journalism, the campaign group for lower taxes, the TaxPayers' Alliance (TPA) worked extensively to examine and then publish the publicity spending of local councils. The TPA looked through 445 annual reports just for the year 2008, continuing their work for previous years reaching as far back as 1996. In 1996-97 the average local authority spent £429,887 on publicity. By 2008, the same average expenditure amounted to £971,985, or more than twice as much in just over a decade. Reportedly the publication of these figures was protested by the local councils in question (Brooke, 2011, p. 46-47).

Government statistics are related to the discussion on public institutions' publicity spending in that some concern has been directed at the time period which British ministers have to sift through official figures before publicizing them. While the United Nations recommends a few hours to ensure the integrity of statistics, in the UK that time period is between 24-42 hours - for comparison, in France it is 1 hour, and the American president is allotted 30 minutes (Brooke, p. 67-68). The trustworthiness of statistics is unavoidably undermined when the methodology is further kept hidden. For example, between April and June of 2008, the rate of attempted murders in England and Wales had risen by 28% from the previous year (p. 79). In response, Gordon Brown's cabinet launched the "No to Knives" campaign and Home Office the Tackling Knives Action Programme. The Home Office later claimed a 17% drop in serious knife crimes between June and October of 2008, although news reporters were then denied a requested access to the regional breakdown of these figures. The chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir Michael Scholar, contacted 10 Downing Street and learned that statisticians had been asked to provide figures not in their entirety but on a cherry-picking basis, in breach of the code of conduct regarding official statistics (p. 80-81). When faced with the negligible level of crime in King's Lynn (in Norfolk county) compared with the extent of its surveillance system, council official Barry Loftus - both founder and director of the town's surveillance project - conceded: "What it comes down to is a perception of crime, rather than crime itself" (Simon Davies, 1996, p. 177).

Some scholars assert that the deployment of CCTV surveillance in the UK provides an important learning prospect for other societies. Even so, Gras (2004) argues that while the UK may have led Europe in terms of the scale of its CCTV investment, other analysts are not so convinced that the mechanisms of legal and political oversight in the UK have managed to keep pace, or that the UK model is one to be attempted at all (Riches, 2006). The UK government has grown to become a world leader in CCTV investment in the past two decades, as the Home Office states: "In many ways, we have led the world from its early introduction in the 1970s to the massive growth in CCTV installation and use in the 1990s" (Home Office, & ACPO, 2007). Nearly four-fifths of the entire Home Office crime prevention budget was spent on CCTV during the latter half of the 1990's (Goold, p. 40). Furthermore, a total of £170 million CCTV funding was made presented to local authorities between 1999 and 2003, following a competitive bidding process; subsequently over 680 CCTV systems were installed in town centres and other public spaces (Home Office, & ACPO, p. 7).

Understandably the rapid deployment of a relatively novel technology resulted in numerous mistakes being made; lessons about what CCTV could and could not achieve were often grasped at a slow pace, and sometimes at great cost. Goold further states that despite the Government being prepared to fund the installation of new CCTV systems in many British cities, "it apparently has no great interest in seeing whether they actually work" (p. 41). Nevertheless, CCTV systems in the UK generally showed a greater range of impacts than those in North America. A surprising find was that CCTV "had no effect on violent crimes but […] a significant desirable effect on vehicle crimes" and on crimes in car parks. Finally "in the city centre and public housing setting, there was evidence that CCTV led to a negligible reduction in crime of about two per cent in experimental areas compared with control areas" (Welsh, & Farrington, 2002, p. 6). Welsh and Farrington note that "surveillance studies" is still a relatively new field and go on to suggest that there needs to be further research on both the optimal conditions for ensure CCTV effectiveness, as well as the mechanisms by which positive results are obtained. It seems clear that an appropriate package of interventions is necessary for the best results. Ultimately, they conclude that "CCTV reduces crime to a small degree." Finally, they propose that:

Future CCTV schemes should be carefully implemented in different settings and should employ high quality evaluation designs with long follow-up periods. In the end, an evidence-based approach to crime prevention which uses the highest level of science available offers the strongest formula for building a safer society. (Welsh, & Farrington, p. 7).

Such conclusions about CCTV surveillance impacts have been further confirmed in many other similar studies, particularly the expansive national study done by Gill and Spriggs (2005). They also find that CCTV appeared to have limited crime reduction effects in town centres and residential areas but seemed to be most effective in relatively contained and controlled access locations (hospitals, car parks, shopping malls). CCTV had poor results on impulsive (violence and alcohol-related) offenses, but better results on more "premeditated" crimes. As in other studies both "halo effects" (crime reduction in adjacent areas) and crime displacement were noted (Gill and Spriggs, 2005, p.7). The technical attributes of particular systems appeared to have either marginally positive or negative influences on the effectiveness of said systems but these were of relatively little overall significance. Finally, surveys of members of the public in areas with extensive CCTV presence found very little evidence of significant alterations in either behaviour, levels of fear or concern about crime.

Nevertheless, CCTV grew rapidly in the UK context, faster even than was justified by any evidence of its impact or effectiveness, since the CCTV has been shown to have only a marginal effect on crime rates in the areas which it had been deployed. Despite this, a wholly unrealistic expectation prevailed, sustained in part by the opinions of police entrepreneurs, security industry marketing agents and a certain amount of citizens, that CCTV could solve much of the public area crime and disorder problems. As a Home Office evaluation from 2005 established:

[CCTV] was oversold - by successive governments - as the answer to crime problems. Few seeking a share of the available funding saw it as necessary to demonstrate CCTV's effectiveness […]. Yet it was rarely obvious why CCTV was the best response to crime in particular circumstances. (Gill, & Spriggs, 2005)

As the authors of this report conclude, "assessed on the evidence presented in this report, CCTV cannot be deemed a success. It has cost a lot of money and it has not produced the anticipated benefits" (Gill, & Spriggs, p.119). However, they continue by noting that lessons are being learned and the technology is rapidly improving with new "event-led," proactive, "intelligent" behaviour recognition and biometric systems presenting new safety management opportunities - simultaneously presenting new threats and challenges. However, their conclusion - despite being evidence based - represents a certain warning against relying overly upon technical solutions. Where CCTV has been perceived to have failed is often the result of overly ambitious expectations placed upon it, or because it was being used in unsuitable places against unfitting problems. Systems were either poorly planned or badly implemented, or perhaps they were not effectively integrated into other community safety strategies and policing systems. As Haggarty has noted, perhaps one beguiling myth that needs to be questioned is the unproblematic assumption that there are "surveillance solutions" for social problems (Haggarty, 2009, 162). What the Home Office referred to in 2007 as "the search […] for the panacea of CCTV" (Home Office, & ACPO, 2007, 40) may therefore be a futile one. Haggarty further states that such solutions will undoubtedly generate still further problems and dilemmas.

This discussion might include the question of who benefits most from an umbrella of protective surveillance: in the UK town centres, high value retail areas were the first major beneficiaries - as opposed to residential areas, children's playgrounds or schools. These are not necessarily the most obvious community safety priorities or the neediest areas, (HINGAÐ) but the nature of the funding arrangements in the early schemes meant that occupiers of these areas could most readily afford the matched funding investment costs. Another issue of inequality arises: at whom are the cameras mostly directed: who is most frequently under surveillance. What is again apparent is that there are profound social and ethical questions associated with surveillance processes (Crawford, 1998: 98-101).

These ethical questions reach to the definition of the crime and security problems that we are seeking to solve and forwards into the design, monitoring and integration of the systems developed. Finally they involve the processes for oversight, monitoring and evaluation, accountability and redress that need to be part of effective community safety strategies. Without these issues being considered at every stage problems are likely, problems that will diminish the effectiveness of the system itself. However technically sophisticated a system is, it will only be as effective as those who operate it and it will only enhance community safety if it meets the needs and reassures the citizens it is intended to serve.

As Gill and Spriggs (2005) concluded:

"Too much must not be expected of CCTV. It is more than just a technical solution; it requires human intervention to work to maximum efficiency and the problems it helps deal with are complex. [It can] help reduce crime and to boost the public's feeling of safety; and it can generate other benefits. For these to be achieved though, there needs to be greater recognition that reducing and preventing crime is not easy and that ill-conceived solutions are unlikely to work no matter what the investment (2005: 120)."