Local councils in the UK use CCTVs to spy on dog owners, cute butts

The Guardian's Marina Hyde discusses the rampant abuse of CCTV spy-cameras placed by local governments -- the junior G-Men who use cameras to follow women with cute butts around town.
. A couple of months ago it was discovered that Poole borough council, in Dorset, had used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act - designed to track serious criminals and terrorists - to determine whether a school applicant and her parents lived where they said they did. They did, and were appalled to discover they had been spied on for three weeks, the subject of surveillance notes such as "female and three children enter target vehicle and drive off". Target vehicle, if you please! The thought of some deep-cover council drone jotting this stuff down as though it were an elite Delta Force operation is not as funny as it is horrifying.

Just who are these people, these swelling legions of unelected, ill-qualified monitors who wield such extraordinary power in our surveillance society? Clarification in one case came last year, when the civilian in charge of a Worcester police station's surveillance team was suspended after detectives found, among one day's footage, a 20-minute sequence of close-ups of a woman's cleavage and backside as she walked oblivious through the streets. Whether the woman ever discovered she was the star of a kind of pervert Truman Show is not recorded. But the offending monitor escaped with a warning and was - unbelievably - back in post within weeks.

Link (via Blogzilla!)

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  1. To be fair, these are just a few bad apples, and nobody really could have predicted this, and I’m sure it won’t happen again. History has shown time and again that as long as you only give this kind of power to the Good Guys(tm) the chances of abuse are really quite low.

  2. We’re screwed in the UK. A complete nation of idiots. We’ve set up a system of surveillance so broad-ranging that it just boggles the mind.

    This kind of thing is just the short end of the stick…tawdry abuse of a terrifying system by stupid little men. When it is inhereted by a more malicious power, as it more than likely will be, then we’re frankly doomed.

    People believe too much in progress and the constance of the status quo. We’ve been trained from an early age that history is teleological and we’re simply passing from strength to strength.

    Any short glimpse at history will, of course, utterly disprove this…but what the hey? Historians are a boring, useless bunch aren’t they?

    It only takes one crisis to top everything and shunt a country to the right. Crises seem to be ever increasingly popular in the world.

    I’m moving to…um…err…um…

    Mars? Apparantly the soil’s good for asparagus.

    I like asparagus.

  3. You said it, SIRDOOK. Frankly, I never understood the brouhaha over surveilling women’s dressing rooms. Shoplifting is a serious economic problem and our economy is in bad shape. It’s a proven fact that women like to shop. Therefore, women have caused our economic woes by shoplifting and should be surveilled in the dressing room. Cries of abuse from liberals amount to endorsements of thieves.

  4. But the offending monitor escaped with a warning and was – unbelievably – back in post within weeks

    These stories always seem to have a tagline like this. It’s not the reporting that the malefactor is back on the job that makes it, it’s the inevitable “unbelievably” or “astonishingly”.

    And — as I’m feeling ever-more compelled to point out every time I see it — all I can say is “if the writer finds this unbelievable, he is either naive or profoundly unobservant.”

  5. I’ve got to say that I’m slightly sympathetic toward the camera operator who started following pretty women with the camera. Even if it was obviously inappropriate.

    There he is, stuck in his little booth all day watching street scenes of people acting completely normal and not committing crimes. What the hell else do you expect him to do all day?

  6. This made me think of “Red Road”, a 2006 Scottish movie about a CCTV operator who misuses her access. She doesn’t do it frivolously (accidentally finds and then purposefully tracks an ex-con who had hurt her), but there is definitely the question of appropriate use of surveillance.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0471030/

  7. Funny how the bad guys always manage to escape the surveillance, all we see are appeals for information.

  8. When the USA Patriot Act was first passed, my immediate thought was that this new tool would quickly be put to use to spy on the opposition party, environmentalists, civil liberties activists, and other people the administration found to be icky.

    Surveillance technology, and the legal authority to use it, WILL ALWAYS be abused, whether for political reasons, personal power, or just plain fun. It’s not a question of “potential for abuse,” or “the possibility of abuse;” human nature being what it is, this kind of abuse is inevitable — and guaranteed to happen.

    When considering new laws, people should always imagine the worst-case scenario, and consider what it’ll be like to have that law come down, in all its full wrath, on them.

  9. when the Patriot Act was put in place my first thought was “good, no longer any excuse for the Mafia to operate”. Guess what.

  10. Not to worry, these are middling concerns. You will soon be overwhelmed by far greater worries. The arctic will be ice free this summer which means before long the UK will come to resemble my home state, Minnesota. I have some tips for coping with -30 wind chills, layers people, think layers.

  11. Well, it’s clear which asses truly need watching, and it ain’t the ones in miniskirts.

    Note to anyone planning a major heist in the UK: Before your team enters the area and begins the operation, be sure to hire some babes with exceptional posteriors to wear something inappropriately tight and then jiggle through the area to draw the surveillance away from your target.

    There was a vid on LiveLeak taken by a surveillance helicopter a couple years ago in Iraq that was of a couple getting it on in what looked like a convertible sports car. It was from the FLIR camera so not too detailed but man, you could tell they were really gettin’ into it! A second chopper was called in to get a peek and the audio of their conversation was part of the video (your tax dollars at work; worth every penny from a comedy perspective). Anyhow, it was around 20 minutes long, and I wonder how many IED’s were planted while it was being shot?

  12. Actually, my impression (as a UK cit who’s been paying attention to this stuff for longer than I care to remember) is that the tide is finally starting to turn. People are talking about the intrusiveness and loss of privacy, and a general public awareness that there’s actually a trade-off when they sit on the sofa tut-tutting about the latest horrible sex crime, child murder or whatever and saying “something must be done! Cage the beasts!”, and that actually the unintended consequences might turn out to be rather more uncomfortable. it’s classic cognitive dissonance; of course we’re against sin, but the costs of writing laws according to Daily Mail / Express headlines (two of the most despicable, contemptible rags ever to sully the good name of journalism) aren’t visible at the time. So for instance there’s a huge system of mandatory criminal-record checks and vetting for anyone who works in contact with children – teachers, doctors, volunteer workers, you name it – and surprise surprise, it’s turning out to get in the way of INNOCENT people. (Who’d a thunk it?) But stuff like this [url=”http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/rss/-/1/hi/uk/7474692.stm”]is now getting reported[/url], and senior well-respected politicos are resigning and standing in by-elections to try to get a debate going on the topic of civil liberties and the surveillance society. Yes, there’s a lot of terrible crap getting reported now, and that’s [i]great[/i]. I just wish stories like this had been around 10 years ago when some of us were attracting odd links for expounding the evils of what was then the RIP bill.

  13. “All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
    —Lord Acton

  14. History has shown time and again that as long as you only give this kind of power to the Good Guys(tm) the chances of abuse are really quite low.

    I’m pretty sure that would piss off Circuit City. That CCTV contract must be pretty lucrative.

  15. Number 6. I signed in to write the same thing. Red Road is a great great movie, it’d recommend it to anyone, especially if you’re interested in the social impact of pervasive surveillance on society.

  16. I think a more appropriate quote might be “the banality of evil”. Of course people extended this sort of power are going to get bored and start peeping at tits and ass. Nothing could be more natural.

    It’s the people who allowed him back on the job who should be hanging from the gibbet.

  17. this just shows men in”power”have nothing-else to do, but get-off(cowards)and trump up “allegations” to cover themselves when their caught!.They simply laugh-off”repercussions”of their behavior.

  18. They have nothing else to do because surveillance cameras don’t really prevent crime. They don’t even help to prosecute it. At their best they help security to monitor doors and entryways.

  19. Ken Hansen “But let’s be clear – “she” can wear anything she wants to, and “he” can look if he wants”
    And he can feel free to stare at tits on his own damn time, not on your dime. When he’s on the clock, he should only be looking at cleavage if bin Laden is hiding there.
    The only time I got paid for staring at girls was that sweet, sweet summer I was a bikini inspector.

  20. @ pauldrye:

    “… all I can say is ‘if the writer finds this unbelievable, he is either naive or profoundly unobservant.'”

    The article was written by a woman. I’m not sure how observant he is, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

  21. What those cameras really need are some of those special filters that can see through lightweight fabric! To see criminals carrying knives, of course ;-)

  22. Ken,

    I’m sure that you react with perfect equanimity when guys stare at your crotch, eh?

  23. Ken Hansen “I’d need to dress in a fashion to “encourage” people to look at my crotch”
    Two words: banana hammock.

  24. From the first paragraph of the article:

    “efforts to pimp [cameras] to 2.0 status continue”

    I can’t bring myself to read any further.

    I realise I’m in the minority on this site, but I live in the UK, and I really don’t give a shit about CCTV cameras in public places.

    I realise there’s a potential for abuse, but I don’t think anyone’s that interested in where I spend my time in town; and if they were, they could find out easily enough with or without CCTV.

    In my experience, most UK nationals aren’t really bothered about CCTV; Germans and Americans seem much more concerned.

  25. I don’t feel like I’ve given anything up (or had anything taken away) by walking through a town with CCTV on the streets.

    What do you think I’ve given up?

  26. I commute to midtown every morning.

    I see anywhere from 10 – 50 cops each morning standing around making sure there are no terrorists in the train stations. But those chances are insignificant. And their resources are being wasted just to make it appear we are safe.

    The reality is that these mostly men are being normal men and they are instinctually sizing up women for breeding to keep .. okay, they’re doing a lot of ass staring. But all that ass staring is less the cops fault and more those higher up who have the cops just standing around doing not much other than telling tourists where the closest Starbuck’s is.

    They say 500,000 people walk through Grand Central every weekday. That’s alot of beautiful asses.

  27. What freedom? Freedom to walk about in a public place without anyone looking at you?

    I’m not complacent, I just think public CCTV is a non-issue compared to, for example: ID cards, 42 days, national DNA database, extraordinary rendition, stop & search, restriction of protest around parliament…

  28. Cameras are useless as a deterrent and protect nothing. The cameras can’t stop crimes from happening, but instead just help identify the robbed, injured, or dead victims after a crime has already been committed.

    And who watches these watchers? There should be a way for the public to observe these unelected surveillance people and see what they’re observing. Perhaps via community TV channels, with a camera perched behind the CCTV operator chair so the public can see what they are monitoring, and a tagline identifying the operator.

  29. I just think public CCTV is a non-issue compared to, for example: ID cards, 42 days, national DNA database, extraordinary rendition, stop & search, restriction of protest around parliament…

    But why should we separate cctv from those other things? There is room for us to protest all of these things, why make cctv a non-issue? How is cctv any less dangerous than the dna/biometrics database? In the not too distant future, cctv will be fitted out with auto-facial-recognition and will have the ability to track anyone in a reasonably built up location. Is that acceptable?

  30. The DNA database is far, far worse. It reverses the burden of proof; anyone who is picked out of the DNA database as a suspect effectively needs to prove their innocence.

    Auto-facial recognition is irrelevant unless there’s a database of faces to be recognised; I don’t care if a camera tracks me around town, if I’m just ‘person X’ to it.

    As I said earlier, if the authorities are interested enough to track me personally, they could do that easily enough with or without cameras.

    Maybe I have a low expectation of privacy. I grew up in a small village, as the child of a public figure. Everyone in the village knew who I was and where I’d been.

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