There is a lot to digest in the Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition government's
Protection of Freedoms Bill
which seeks to undo some, but not all of the damage inflicted on our freedoms and liberties and on the public purse, by years of neglect, bureaucratic red tape, technological and financial incompetence and the authoritarian "Must Pretend To Be Seen To Be Doing Something To Appease The Tabloid Newspapers" legislation and schemes dreamed up by discredited previous Labour government politicians and their "revolving door" apparatchiks and bureaucrats.
Hopefully, if time and other commitments permit, Spy Blog will try to comment on most of the provisions of this Bill.
UPDATE 15 Feb 2011: The Cabinet Office has created a public website where you can comment on each clause of the Protection of Freedoms Bill:
The reference to the Home Office's "Civil Liberties and Identity Policy Unit" is a bit worrying - are the same people who were driving the authoritarian National Identity Scheme, now also formulating policy on all "civil liberties" ?
An acid test of the Labour party since its election defeat will be how it scrutinises and enhances our freedoms and liberties through its Parliamentary scrutiny of this Bill. If it cannot even identify the weaknesses in this Bill and cannot successfully press the Government for positive changes, or it simply moans about "cuts" or just parrots the authoritarian lines fed to it by the control freaks hiding in the secrecy of Whitehall, then it will continue to be an object of hatred and derision. Given the make up of the Shadow Cabinet, the prospect of anything but dismal failure by the Labour party is slim.
Spy Blog originally started out online in 1996 (under the then Tory government) campaigning for a level playing field of legally enforceable, national regulations and standards for the even then unacceptable growth in unregulated CCTV surveillance cameras intruding on personal privacy and security in public and private spaces.
Although many years too late, it is welcome to see a start in this direction with the Statutory Code of Practice / Surveillance Camera Commissioner scheme proposed in the
Protection of Freedoms Bill Part 2 Regulation of surveillance Chapter 1 Regulation of CCTV and other surveillance camera technology
CCTV is not just about cameras but about linked Databases and Software
This Bill fails to acknowledge the fact that Closed Circuit Television is no longer just about Analog CCTV surveillance cameras and VHS analog tape recordings, but it is mostly about Digital Cameras and cross referenced, cross linked Computer Databases and Telecommunications Infrastructures. They also now work in multiple parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, not just in the visible light part of it.
The Code of Practice and the Surveillance camera Commissioner should have powers and budgets to deal with complaints and abuses about these technologies, which are already available or under development today.
There is a mention of one form of Software enhancement ot CCTV surveillance, that of Automatic Number Plate recognition, but other attempts at Software enhancements such as Facial Recognition databases, Lip Reading software (which can snoop on conversations out of earshot but in sight) , Gait biometrics (how individual people walk or run) , multi-spectral e.g. thermal Infra Red imaging (e.g. snooping on private houses, from the road or from the air, which seem to be radiating "too much" heat, and then kicking the door in, searching for illegal cannabis growing hydroponics systems) are ignored.
There is no mention of the various "See through Clothes" / "See through walls" spy camera imaging systems, which must also be nationally regulated.
Statutory Code of Practice does not cover all public bodies
Although it applies to Local Authorities , Police Forces and Police Authorities, this Bill does not apply to Whitehall Central Government Departments or their Agencies .
Why not ?
Surely the Bill, which specifically mentions Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) should also apply to the Highways Agency and the profusion of cameras and public and private sector ANPR systems e.g. the thousand of TrafficMaster ANPR cameras, on Motorways and A roads, as well as those operated by Local Authorities on minor roads ?
Motorway Road Works now routinely use SPECS camera systems to enforce the 50 mph speed limit, by taking ANPR images of all vehicles entering and leaving the road works and then calculating the average speed over the measured distance. What happens to the millions of such images taken each year, logging the time and date and location of millions of innocent motorists. Surely these should not be excluded from regulation by this Bill, because they are not operated by either the Police or a Local authority but by the Highways Agency ?
Transport for London controversially hands over all of its CCTV footage, from the London Congestion Charge and London Green Emissions Zone ANPR cameras, video feeds from its Traffic Cameras and from those on the London Underground "In real time, in bulk" to the Metropolitan Police for "national security" secret data mining and trawling, not just for any specific, targeted investigation. The notorious Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith signed a Ministerial Certificate exempting this data from the Data Protection Act. Why does this Bill not correct that vast extension of the Database Surveillance State ?
What about the CCTV / ANPR within the National Health Service or in Schools or Universities ?
What about Private Sector properties which are actually public or semi-public spaces like shopping centres, sports arenas , cinemas or theatres etc. ?
What about Factories and Offices and other private sector workplaces ?
Why are any of these CCTV / ANPR systems exempt from this Bill ?
There is no mention of the use or abuse of CCTV and ANPR Cameras and databases by the Intelligence Agencies or the Military Armed Forces.
National Security must not be glossed over or left to an obscure section in the the as yet unwritten Code of Practice.
There should be explicit provisions in the text of the Bill for authorising the temporary use of CCTV cameras and ANPR systems for "national security" directed or intrusive surveillance.
Where there are permanent "national security" CCTV / ANPR systems e.g. at Airports or Sea Ports and Fright Container Terminals etc. , they must be regularly inspected and reported on. If they are to act as a deterrent to criminals, spies and terrorists. The Surveillance Camera Commissioner must publish annual statistics as to their effectiveness.
If this highlights potential weaknesses and failings e.g. CCTV systems which are poorly maintained due to "budget cuts", a fact which which may conceivably be "of use to a terrorist" etc., then so be it.
It should be the duty of those running such systems to ensure that there is adequate management resources and budgets to tighten up any such loophole as son as they are found. Keeping them secret from the public, but almost certainly not secret from insiders and terrorists or espionage agents, is the worst possible way of running such schemes and any managers of such schemes should be named and shamed and prosecuted for misfeasance in public office if they persist in doing so.
Any such "national security" permissions should only be temporary and should have to be re-applied for and re-authorised every 6 months, just like RIPA interception warrants.
Remember that the controversial Project Champion ANPR / CCTV system involving the planned use of hundreds of cameras to create an electronic ghetto / political activist mass surveillance monitoring scheme, in a couple of areas of Birmingham with a large Muslim minority (but also snooping on the innocent majority of people of all religions and races) . This was a "counter terrorism" funded scheme which was sneaked in as a supposed "normal policing" anti-crime measure, inflicted on the local Police and Local Authority.
These extra "national security" scrutiny provisions should also apply to any systems commandeered or volunteered for use for "national security" purposes which are not wholly owned or operated by the Police or the Intelligence Agencies e.g. by Local Authorities or by private sector security monitoring companies.
Surely the Surveillance Camera Commissioner should have to give his temporary permission for any such, hopefully more narrowly targeted schemes ?
See Through Your Childrens' Clothes Imaging Cameras
See through your clothes passive millimetre wave or Backscatter X-ray or TeraHerz or Ultra Wide Band imaging systems should also be covered by this Bill - they certainly produce CCTV style images.
The use of such "see through your children's clothes 'perv scanner'" technologies should be confined to high security areas like Prisons and not permitted as general snooping systems, especially not in secret, on the public (including children) in the street.
There should be criminal penalties for such abuse.
Aerial Reconnaissance drones
The Surveillance Camera Commissioner must also have powers to regulate to prevent the abuse of the ever cheaper Aerial Reconnaissance drones and robot devices, which are being hyped up in the run up to take a share of the massive London 2012 Olympic Games security budget.
Surveillance Camera Commissioner
The role of the Surveillance Camera Commissioner appears to be the usual "jobs for the boys" sinecure based on the failed attempts to pretend that there is proper public scrutiny of the sometimes necessary state intrusions into our privacy, thorough the RIPA Commissioners, and without even the limited power and budget of the Information Commissioner.
Even the experienced and cynical observers of the UK Surveillance Database State who are regular readers of Spy Blog have difficulty in even naming, let alone trying to contact any of these secretive UK Commissioners.
These RIPA Commissioners may well be excellent people, former High Court Judges, but their roles and powers are deliberately crippled and they do not inspire any confidence amongst the general public, most of whom have never heard of them, let alone know how to contact them, a useless waste of time, since they refuse to deal with complaints from the public.
The Surveillance Camera Commissioner should be given the budget and manpower to employ technical experts as well as administrators and lawyers. The failure to do so has crippled the effectiveness of the Information Commissioner's Office, so this should not be repeated in this new role.
The Surveillance Camera Commissioner must be given the resources to interact with the public and have the power to investigate their complaints. The failure to do this has been a major failing of the RIPA Commissioners scheme i.e. the Interception of Communications Commissioner, the Chief Surveillance Commissioner, and the Intelligence Services Commissioner .
It is unclear what overlap and rivalry there will be between the Surveillance Camera Commissioner, the Chief Surveillance Commissioner, the Intelligence Services Commissioner and the Information Commissioner.
It is extraordinary and hypocritical that whilst another section of the Protection of Freedoms Bill relaxes the control of the Secretary of State / Whitehall department over the budgets and staff approval of the Information Commissioner's Office, yet that outdated model is exactly what is being proposed for the new Surveillance Camera Commissioner, thereby fatally compromising the independence and trustworthiness of the office right from the outset.
The Protection of Freedoms Bill should explicitly include the Surveillance Camera Commissioner as a public body under the Freedom of Information Act, for precisely the same reasons as the Information Commissioner's Office is already subject to it - it meets all the criteria for inclusion in the List of Public Bodies as it will have been set up by an Act of Parliament.
It is an ongoing scandal that the RIPA Commissioners , who have also been created by an Act of Parliament are still not yet classed as Public Bodies for the purposes of the Freedom Information Act.
Why has this Protection of Freedoms Bill not corrected this bit of authoritarian Labour party / Whitehall smoke and mirrors ?
Central registration of CCTV camera systems
One of the stupidest wastes of Police resources is the never ending scramble, going door to door, to find and then "seize as evidence" any CCTV camera footage in a particular area, after a high profile assault, rape, murder, kidnapping or terrorist attack.
Such footage is less and less useful, as time passes after the incident, so any delays in finding such footage are critical.
In a country where every receive only Television set has to have an Annual Television Licence fee paid, it is very surprising to many foreign visitors, that the CCTV camera snooping systems require no such Fee and no local or national registration,
Why does this Bill not mandate the creation of such Local CCTV registers, through the simple inclusion of any CCTV camera system on the exterior of any building, as part of the Local Authority Planning process, which already covers the erection of signs, ventilation pipes and Satellite dish aerials etc. of a similar size and visual impact as CCTV "Death Star" domes ?
Why is there no mandatory (or even suggested) Data Retention period for CCTV video footage, before it is overwritten on tape or on magnetic disk ? It would be trivial to insist on this as part of the CCTV Licence Application, provided that different classes and sizes of systems were sensibly accommodated. A home security CCTV system should not be expected to hold weeks or months of images online, whilst that run by the Police in a City Centre should have the budget to do so.