MANY people around Britain are watching the proposed privatisation of Huntingdon’s CCTV system (The Hunts Post, July 20). This will be a significant step towards a new paradigm, where CCTV is more intrusive and less accountable.
The privatisation of Huntingdon's CCTV should be seen in the context of privatisation of front-line police services, which is currently taking place in Surrey, the 20 per cent cut in Metropolitan Police numbers, which will see widespread substitution of private security firms for police, starting with the Olympics, the substitution of CCTV and other technology for traditional policing, and the closure of traditional town-centre police stations to relocate to out-of-town command centres that are closed to the public.
Detachment and isolation from the community will increase because private security has no public service ethos. The growth of CCTV is worrying because it is central to the displacement of traditional policing and values.
In numerous studies, CCTV has been found to have very little or no effect on crime rates - CCTV takes money from traditional policing, but is less good value, in terms of preventing crime.
Let' be clear what privatisation of Huntingdon' CCTV system represents: it is about obtaining private finance for investment in new technology; which will enable future expansion of the system. Incidentally, it is claimed, this will reduce running costs.
What is financing the privatisation? Private operators want to make a profit. It is claimed that an investment of £500,000 will save £95,000 a year - but this return on investment is lower than would normally be attractive, unless extra money is being put in from somewhere else. In many cases, additional government funding has been made conditional upon privatisation - was that the case here?
CCTV is about to undergo a dramatic transformation, with new computer systems such as HERMES and INDECT that will be able to watch every camera, recognise each individual face, recognise behaviour. This will significantly change society, yet may have only a small impact on crime. Should such powerful technology be under private control?
Huntingdon has already seen a powerful example of the problems with privatisation: the headquarters of a police organisation called NETCU, which has been extremely controversial for treating non-criminal political protest as a police matter, and for helping unpopular companies stop peaceful, lawful protest against them.
NETCU has used CCTV and police resources for the benefit of those companies, to identify protestors and name them in private civil injunctions, which allow courts to ban things that are not normally criminal. NETCU has not been open to public scrutiny or Freedom of Information requests because NETCU is itself a subsidiary of a private company - the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).
NETCU and ACPO have been given government funding and official powers to perform official police functions, yet are private companies, not open to public scrutiny. And soon, privatised CCTV may use advanced technology to store images of you, and everybody else, with similar lack of accountability.
Policy decisions about CCTV are generally made at a high level, and then implemented at a local level - Huntingdon is being used as a guinea pig in a larger social laboratory.
However, local implementation means that ordinary people can throw a spanner in the works. By contrast with the faceless national bodies and bureaucrats that make top-level decisions about policing and out-sourcing, local authorities are directly accountable to local people and accessible for lobbying.
The campaign group No-CCTV is trying to establish a local group in Huntingdon to resist this expansion - it can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.no-cctv.org.uk. Only local people can stop these schemes - that means you.
Tyne and Wear