Friday 1 December 2017

Do you feel safe?

Are you deluded? Duleek, Co Meath was in the news again this week because a local lawyer is saying that their CCTV surveillance system [screenshot R] is illegal because it doesn't meet the requirements of the Data Protection Commission DPC. This is Duleek, not Detroit, so you might think that having CCTV on every corner might be exaggerating the lawlessness and gun-crime that goes down in Co Meath.
The Duleek Everyman position is that
cctv makes the local people feel safer
they can afford the purchase and installation costs
the monitoring is done in the local police station
nobody else has locus standi to complain. The lawyer said that anyone who goes down Main Street, Duleek and indeed the whole population have a civil liberty place to stand on for their objection. We the dissenters have a right to privacy: to sneak into the pub during lent; to meet our [consensual] adulterous partners; to cross-dress in purple . . . without it being recorded and pored over by our neighbours. Even if that neighbour is Garda "Curious" George Doohickey. One of the unsavoury info-bits that fell out of the Garda whistle-blowers scandal was that some Gardai habitually used Pulse, their central computer system, to provide material for coffee-break celebrity tittle-tattle or to check out prospective girl-friends. The Gardai are not, after all, a random selection of the population: they are probably top heavy with [reformed] boy racers; folk who like to be in charge; folk who are curious about the human condition and the peculiarities on humans in general. Swimming coaches, priests and scout-leaders are self-selected in a different way. Most of us gravitate to a place where we feel comfortable, where some need is met, even if not expressed. So having my private life monitored by the Gardai doesn't allay my concerns.

We have a rural area neighbour phone-watch txt-alert system to which we contribute €10 a year. It seems to be mainly a way of cementing prejudice against the travelling community: Hiace vans are responsible for a disproportionate amount of the alert-traffic. As blow-ins to the rural place where we've lived for 20 years, our movements will be under disproportionate scrutiny when neighbourhood watch gets tooled up with cctv. In 1998, we got a special visit from the local Garda sergeant because a) two strange dogs had been worrying sheep b) we were blow-ins so the most likely owners of the dogs.

And what about the middle, financial solvency [they can afford the purchase and installation costs], condition? The burghers of Duleek have a pub-quiz and a raffle and a €100-a-plate fund-raising dinner and deter the hoods from rifling their nice outer suburban execu-homes . . . so the hoods go off to the next community where the pickings may be thinner but the risks are less. A slow hand-clap for NIMBY indeed.

And what about the feeling safer? The obnoxious and stroppy Newstalk presenter Paul Williams conjured up a graphic image of a widow beaten black&blue for her pension as if that alone was sufficient justification for cctv at the end of every bohereen down the country.

UCD Law Lecturer TJ McIntyre takes that apart as well.  The desire for surveillance is driven by an up-spike in rural crime which mapped quite well to the recession. As the financial pinch hit, burglars had to travel further and more frequently in search of their ill-gotten flat-screen TVs. But the crime rate was starting to tumble before the cctv arrived. You don't need thousands of €€€s for cameras and recorders you just need to wait until the economy picks up. Cost? between €1K and €3K for a 4 camera domestic system. But that's a noddy system, Duleek's 24/7 14 camera installation appears to have cost €50,000.  Which would be a fair price to pay (shared out among 3,000 Duleekists) IF cctv had a significant effect on deterring crime.  One of the DPC issues is proportionality: "Other uses may fail the test of proportionality. For example, using a CCTV system to constantly monitor employees is highly intrusive and would need to be justified by reference to special circumstances". The DPC wants operators of cctv to go through a check-list to make them weigh the cost-benefit of their surveillance toys. cctv is okay if there is a demonstrable good to be achieved and little collateral intrusion into privacy.  If the operators cannot marshal the evidence in this equation, then they shouldn't be allowed a license. If they cannot be bothered to answer the questions because they are smug in their uninvestigated certainties, then they are breaking the law. Here's an example of an intrusive technological solution to trucker fatigue that might be better solved by paying the drivers a living wage.

In certain, quite narrowly defined places - car-parks and shops - cctv seems to work. They reduce crimes and anti-social behaviour (parking across two slots?) in car-parks by 50%. The extreme example of this is the Bold Street car-park in Derby - billed as the most secure such building in the world. It used to be a hang-out for pan-handlers and low-lifes. Since the installation of cameras and other security measures in 1998 there have been no reported crimes. In the UK, some figures suggest that cctv reduces crime by a trifling 4%.  Civil libertarians reckon that you can achieve better cheaper reduction with low-tech non-intrusive measures like better street lighting.

Which brings me to my final point. If you feel safe - you've paid all that money after all - then you'll feel confident and maybe do daft and potentially self-destructive things. There's a cctv right outside the pub, so it will be quite okay to ridicule that fat chap's tattoos as we all spill out on the street at closing time? Don't think so.

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