SurveillanceLocal anger mounts over counter-terrorism-funded CCTVs

Published 9 September 2010

There are 4,200,000 CCTVs installed in the United Kingdom, leading many to describe the kingdom as a “surveillance society”; 218 of these CCTVs caused a firestorm: they were installed in a predominantly Muslim section of Birmingham — along with 169 automatic license plate recognition (ANPR) cameras; the reason for local anger: the funding for the deployment came from the U.K.’s counter-terrorism, rather than crime-fighting, authorities; residents argue this makes them all look like potential terrorists

A few of the U.K.'s surveillance cameras // Source:

The first installment of a CCTV surveillance camera system for the purpose of deterring crime can be traced back to 1968, when the Olean police department in New York began monitoring a main business street. Ever since then, the use of this security monitoring system has sky-rocketed, especially in the United Kingdom, which some have called a “surveillance society” for an estimated 4,200,000 cameras in use throughout the kingdom. Such surveillance has been criticized for being too intrusive, especially now in Birmingham where residents have voiced their discontent over the “excessive” installment of 218 CCTV surveillance cameras in a predominantly Muslim area.

Ayoub Khan, Birmingham City Council’s community safety portfolio holder, describes how the implementation of the new network of surveillance cameras was first proposed by Home Office counter-terrorism officers in April 2009, without much forewarning or public consultation. In a statement in April, the Safer Birmingham Project (SBP) said it received a £3 million grant from the Home Office to improve community safety and reduce crime in some of the city’s neighborhoods. It was subsequently and controversially revealed that capital had been allocated through the Terrorism and Allied Matters (TAM) fund, which is administered by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), which leads and coordinates the direction and development of the police service in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Cameras were installed in the parliamentary constituency of Sparkbrook and the ward of Washwood Heath under a project titled Project Champion. After having been informed of the funding for the newly implemented CCTV cameras, Birmingham residents have insisted that all visible cameras in the area be shrouded until further notice by officials.

Police chiefs Sir Paul Scott-Lee, who was West Midlands chief constable until April 2009, and Stuart Hyde, who was assistant chief constable, have been accused of misleading town councilors over the true motives behind surveillance scheme targeted at Muslim communities in Birmingham. Along with the CCTV cameras, 169 automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras were installed around Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook, two predominantly Muslim neighborhoods.

The Guardian reports that Brendan Connor, the lead on counter-terrorism for the police authority, along with Scott-Lee, had touted Project Champion as a legitimate response to a “substantial” terrorist threat in the area.

During a meeting that took place 27 August 2010, Jackie Russell, director of Safer Birmingham Partnership, said that she believed she had been misled by the police and she did not realize Project Champion was a counter-terrorism initiative.

Russell’s recent testimony conflicts with a Youtube video in which she spoke at the “Spycam Summit – A Public Rally” in Birmingham on 4 July 2010. In the video, Russell states: “The nature of the community, the voice of the community, it was like holding up a mirror to what was being done and what this project was all about. And really, it’s absolutely right that you did that.”

Corinna Ferguson, legal officer at human rights group Liberty, said: “Belated consultation of the communities targeted by Project Champion will give local people a much-needed platform to voice their absolute rejection of this discriminatory scheme.”

With laws such as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act granting localities and agencies the access to personal data, and private filming, every citizen of the area in question seems to be the subject of close scrutiny despite the actual efficacy of these strategies. According to a 2008 report by the U.K. Police Chiefs, only 3 percent of crimes were solved by CCTV, and in London, a Metropolitan Police report showed that only one crime was solved per 1,000 cameras.