Big Bobby is watching you

Big Bobby is watching you

by Jonathan Stanley
article from Tuesday 15, August, 2017

FEW THINGS irritate advocates of civil liberties that the perverse need of our authorities to spy on fellow citizens.

The Oyster card you scan on a bus,  the smartphone that logs onto available networks, the CCTV camera; who really is watching?

Now CCTV is mobile if your local friendly bobby happens to be wearing it. A report published by civil liberties and privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch reveals that 71 per cent of UK police forces have spent £22.7M on 47,922 body-worn cameras but are unable to show how many guilty pleas or convictions have been obtained based on footage from the technology.

Once it was the case that any conversation recorded using concealed technology could only be admitted in court if both parties consented. This is flying out of the window rapidly and undermining community policing in the process. The evidence is now revealing that it is very unclear if concealed cameras make for sounder safer evidence in proceedings.

Of all the principles of Robert Peel that underline policing by consent it is this,

"That the police are the public and the public are the police and that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives "

In that one paragraph we see the true story, we should not expect the police to carry themselves in public in a manner different to the rest of us. Yes the uniform is important, handcuffs required in the event of arrest, and at times a baton for self defence if policing a crowd but that really is it.

No guns, no tasers, and no spy cameras. If our boss or colleague started walking around an office wearing a spy camera would we feel intimidated or feel our privacy undermined? What if a slight discrepancy was spotted?

It would make us uncomfortable and in doing so it means police put distance between themselves and the public, no longer on an equal footing. The police force has a role and it is to maintain order. In treating each citizen it must assume neither guilt nor innocence and conduct itself away from popular opinion.

Evidence used to be bulky. This had the advantage that it required the police to be reasonable in what it stored and by inventory meant it had to account for what it stored. This is not the case with digital evidence.

Millions of hours can be stored for nothing on police servers and there is nothing to ensure all footage is submitted to the defence in a trial. Does some footage show the plaintiff in a different light? Is there doubt introduced by one piece of film and not another? A minority report?

Transparency in any sense has gone. Police have targets to meet (and even that undermines Peelian principles) so can we really trust them to show all the evidence, warts and all?

It also feeds the parasitic world of reality TV policing which I've always found very distasteful. It is voyeuristic to show such footage lest we forget trials are still rightly not televised. It can sensationalise an incidence that a jury may not be persuaded of by written testimony alone.

When should cameras NOT be used? At an officer's discretion? Or shall the officers also be spied on? It is Orwellian in nature and risks isolating both the police and the public if this morphs into surveillance of all public facing tax-funded workers. Professional autonomy would be sacrificed overnight and it is little appreciated how resistant to excessive authority those who exercise it actually are.

Given how ropy much of the evidence is on this new technology and how unusual this practice is in public it's time perhaps to whisper that most famous word of the silver screen, "Cut!"

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