CCTV in Forest Fields: Lessons from Brum

Tagged as: anpr birmingham cctv local_communities repression sabotage science_and_technology sumac-centre surveillance
Neighbourhoods: forest_fields

One of the things that most disturbs friends from other countries when they first arrive in Britain is the omnipresence of CCTV. Whilst in Europe people are used to seeing cameras at major stations and airports and on government buildings and banks, they are nothing like as prevalent as the cameras we have. And they are certainly never stationed in residential neighbourhoods (or the toilets of junior schools![1]). The outrage caused by such a development would see them removed immediately, by legal means or sabotage by angry locals. Many visitors are shocked at how widespread the use of this invasive and authoritarian technology is in the UK.

To be fair, we haven't allowed the cameras in without a whimper or two of dissent. In Nottingham, the introduction of CCTV in Forest Fields was vigorously opposed through the proper channels... to complete indifference by the authorities[2]. The cameras have now been spying on the neighbourhood for some time without anything being done about them. There is even one located a few yards down the road from the gate of the Sumac Centre social centre, well placed to keep tabs on who's going to what meetings and gatherings. The attitude of local anti-authoritarians seems to be that "there's nothing we can do about it."

But CCTV doesn't just cause problems for a few anarchists who want to plot in peace. The recent outrage about 'anti-terrorism' cameras in Birmingham might shed light on an altogether more sinister attempt at social control. West Midlands Police, via the Safer Birmingham Partnership, used £3m of anti-terror funding to install 150 Automatic Numberplate Recognition (ANPR) cameras to form "rings of steel" around the Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook neighbourhoods. These were designed to prevent any vehicles entering or leaving the areas without their registration numbers being registered. 72 of the cameras were covert. Why did they pick those particular areas for this intense surveillance? Because they are predominantly Muslim.

Fortunately the residents of Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook were a bit more militant than the residents of Forest Fields and the outrage that they expressed forced local politicians and police into a humiliating climbdown. Bags were soon put over the visible cameras and there were (unverifiable) assurances that the covert cameras would be inactivated too.

The Birmingham case has shed a new light on the state's motivations for and tactics in deploying its CCTV empire of millions of cameras. Whilst "preventing terrorism" has long been cited as a reason for CCTV deployment near the seats of power and on public transport, it has never previously been admitted to as a reason for spying on residential neighbourhoods. Could the cameras in Forest Fields, one of Nottingham's biggest Muslim neighbourhoods, be being used for these purposes too? Some commentators have pointed out that some of the masts are conveniently placed near some of Forest Fields' mosques.

We might not even know the extent to which CCTV has been installed in the area. The revelation that scores of covert cameras can be installed in an area once the justification of anti-terrorism is invoked is extremely worrying and suggests they are not trying to "prevent crime" at all but are trying to entrap. The state has really let the genie out of the bottle with the Birmingham botch because now people know they are being spied on without their consent. The "paranoia" that anti-CCTV campaigners have been accused of in the past when claiming that cameras can be used to spy on communities has turned out to be reality.

The Home Office and police have always struggled to make the case that CCTV helps to prevent crime (even their own studies suggest otherwise[3]). Recent attempts to convince locals to accept surveillance of their homes and streets have focussed on dealing with "anti-social behaviour" instead. What this really means is relying on the state to mediate your relationships with your neighbours for you. Many in Forest Fields bought that line and supported the scheme as a result. It seems that our communities have become so fragmented that some people actually want cops, and the army of fake cops that strut up and down behind them, to sort out their lives for them.

And once enough people have accepted that the cameras are going to solve everything for us, there's no easy way of going back. Now that the masts are up the authorities can use them for anything they want, whether it is checking who is going to the mosque or who's attending which direct action gathering at the Sumac, and we won't know they're doing it.

The newspaper reports of how the Birmingham cameras were stopped focus on community leaders and public meetings, but a report from a friend in Brum reveals a different story. According to him, the public campaign went side by side with a campaign of vandalism against the cameras and threats to "turn them off or we will". The local authorities, scenting a widespread rebellion against them, turned the cameras off to limit the damage. Perhaps the residents of Forest Fields could learn a lesson or two from this rather less polite approach.


[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/antivandal-cctv-in-school-toilets-defended-1756067.html | http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/08/19/school_cctv/

[2] http://www.forestfields.org.uk/ | http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2009/04/428746.html | http://www.nottinghamcity.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=6025

[3] http://p10.hostingprod.com/@spyblog.org.uk/blog/2007/10/national_cctv_strategy_worryingly_incomplete.html | http://www.no-cctv.org.uk/caseagainst/docs/Assessing_the_impact_of_CCTV-HO_study292.pdf | http://www.nacro.org.uk/data/resources/nacro-2004120299.pdf

Comments

Most support CCTV

I don't know who these 'visitors' you speak of are but after being the victim of crime twice in recent years I welcome more CCTV as do most people.

Of course it's about Surveillance

A couple of days ago, I saw the CCTV camera on the Nat West bank on the Green move as it followed three Muslim men crossing Gregory Blvd.

Victim of CCTV / Crime

Surely as a victim of crime two times over, you should realise how ineffective mass CCTV surveillance of our country is? Did the camera stop the crimes against you when they were happening? Cleary they did not! Did they even prove useful after the event? I'm not attacking you personally, but CCTV do not stop crime, they do not deter crime; they merely record it as it happens and sometimes when the cops can be arsed to help regular people such as yourself, they might take a glance at it and probably wont gain any results.

You claim CCTV stops crime - yet the uk is one of the most watched nations in the world - and also has one of the highest crime rates!!

Most support CCTV? Only in brainwashed UK

Most people in most parts of the world have a healthy distrust of big brother government. It's only people in the UK who have been bombarded with pro-CCTV propaganda from the cops for years who accept it.

Would you allow cameras in your kids' school toilets? Or your bedroom? No? Then why allow them in your street or outside your house. Most of the people who support CCTV don't live anywhere near the cameras.

Fuck CCTV! Bring down the cameras!

One small step at a time

The comment by "Anon" http://nottingham.indymedia.org.uk/articles/407#comment-127 is a typical planting of pro-State propaganda by groups who have gradually infiltrated Indymedia. Whenever a statement that challenges the status quo is advanced, some bright spark will comment on the Indy boards the pro-control/ pro-capitalist/ pro-business-as-usual lines that are used to pacify the general public into a blissful acquiescence of increasingly tight and systematic powers by the organs of the State and their business supporters. In "Anon"'s case it is the CCTV is good for crime detection meme, even though as a twice victim s/he has not been protected very well and s/he doesn't give any info as to whether or not the CCTV evidence was useful in the apprehension and conviction of the criminal. It isn't usually - CCTV footage suffers from resolution problems and only closeups are used forensically as evidence of crimes. But they do provide footage that is quite sufficient for general monitoring and surveillance, replacing the more resource-intensive routine of the "stake out". As microphones and optic enhancements (e.g. infra-red) are added with each successive generation and there continues to be development in scale of device, enabling smaller and smaller devices to be placed unobtrusively whilst the larger, more visible devices are deactivated as a sop to public opinion, we must be especially cautious about who and what is being recorded and for what reasons and by whom. We need pyublic accountability and transparency using technology that far exceeds any of our present moral and ethical statutes that protect the individual and society from the abuses and excesses of a rampant and unaccountable system of rulers and dominating strata of privileged who are above such mendacities to which we are subjected.

A general public needs to be pacified, and using psychological means of espousing a pacifying opinion (remember the BS platitude "if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear" and note also how that particular meme seems to have dropped out of favour of late) is as effective as bombing campaigns in distant lands against the enemy of our freedoms and values ... we are always under seige and give up our security to the forces of (alleged) good who must monitor everyone for everyone. It is an inverted panopticon - the surveillance is externalised to a secretive assemblage of others whose roles, powers and intent is never expressed openly, so the surveillance is less self-surveillance (although no doubt that does operate) in the Benthamian sense and more of the power-over totalitarian sense.

The all-seeing eye of the supra-State needs to be blinded. We need to re-establish our sense of power and reiterate the defined role of the State as the composite of all interests administrated by those chosen by the majority to do so. Unfortunately, the control of the populations to ensure docile consumerist behaviour is paramount, and corporations are making politicians and consultants and various scientists quite well off to fob off their short-term fiscally-determined self-gratifying interest as good for all.

No more. That eye needs to be blinded and the more the community steps up into the State-controlled space, the more empowered the community will really be. The benefits of the Tory government - and the only one - is that they desire a small State - and that provides an opportunity to mobilise.