The Home Office, especially under NuLabour, is always scrabbling about with new legislation, and toying with unproven technological magic fixes to social problems.
Instead of grinding on with NuLabour's expensive, intrusive and ineffective against terrorists, centralised compulsory biometric identity database and ID card plans, and instead of hinting at a new "acts preparatory to terrorism" offence, rather than using the existing draconian Terrorism Act legislation, there is an area of legislation which the Government could be more usefully pursuing.
Now is the time for the licensing of public CCTV surveillance camera systems and operators.
It is self evident that the thousands of CCTV surveillance and spy cameras on the London Tube, on the Buses and in streets and buildings along the number 30 Bus route, were of no use whatsover in acting as a deterrent against this weeks's bomb attacks in London.
This is despite years of public taxpayers subsidies and endless propaganda campaigns such as the creepy "Secure Beneath the Watchful Eyes" campaign.
It is now two days since the bomb attacks. We doubt if the CCTV footage available to authorities has been analysed properely yet.
We doubt if all the available CCTV footage has even been identified yet.
Presumably the investigators are concentrating on what they already control in the Tube and Bus systems, and the large commercial systems that they are aware of, but eventually, every passenger on the Bus route 30 will also be considered to be a suspect until they are "eliminated" from the investigation.
It is at this point that the current lack of a regulated license scheme for CCTV camera surveillance systems is harming the hunt for the bombers.
The Bus bomb went off about 9.17am. By 10am the police should have been able to print out a list of CCTV cameras and the contact details of the operators along the Route 30, in order to contact them and to get copies of any tapes or hard disks that they are using, to preserve any possible intelligence or judicial evidence.
We do not want a repeat of the abuse of public CCTV monitoring, which occurred in two recent, still unsolved murder cases in South West London, of Amelie Delagrange and Marsha McDonnell, both of whom were recorded on Bus CCTV cameras, shortly before alighting and then being murdered a short distance away from the bus stops.
Instead of publicising images of an actual suspect, thy technology was abused to hunt down "witnesses" who almost certainly had no view of any potential attackers lurking in the area - it is almost impossible to see very far through a Bus window at night. None of this CCTV hunt for "witnesses" resulted in any arrests or in anyone being charged with either of these two brutal nurders, and the "witnesses", looked, to a casual obsever, as if they were "wanted in connection with a murder", when they of all people, actually had cast iron alibis, as they were still on the bus that had just dropped off the murder victims, being transported away from the murder scenes.
We do not want to see a repeat of this sort of behavior by the authorities, in a few weeks time, where possible "witnesses" who might or might not have seen a "terrorist suspect" boarding a bus etc. are hunted down, on the off chance, because they have been captured on CCTV, but have not yet come forward as witnesses, probably because they have not actually witnessed anything that they can now remember.
People overseas will be astonished to learn that there is a massive centralised database of television recivers, in order to finance the BBC via the controversial licence fee, which is ruthlessly enforced through a system of inspections and fines, but there is absolutely nothing comparable for CCTV cameras and monitors, which are allegedly installed for "the purposes of the prevention or detection of crime", in order to be exempt from the Data Protection Act.
Apart from not knowing where all the relevant available CCTV camseras are, without having to waste police manpower and , crucially, time after the event, by knocking on every door, ther eis the question of minimum standards of maintainance.
After every major terrorist incident, such as the Real IRA bomb outside the BBC White City complex, or the Soho/Brixton nail bombs, the Metropolitan Police end up advertising and appealing to operators of CCTV systems to do basic maintaince like cleaning the lenses and making sure that they were not re-using the videotapes too often. There is no legal requirement for the operators of CCTV systems to do so.
How long should CCTV video tapes or hard disk footage be kept for, before being wiped out and resused ? The NuLabour Government has been very prescriptive in its attempts, under the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001, to introduce volunatry / mandatory Data Retention for telecommunications or internet communications data, and is even policy laundering this sort of scheme through the European Union. Why have they not made any attempt to mandate that public CCTV footage should kept for, say a week before being overwritten or erased ?
There are various voluntary Codes of Practice which some of th epublically funded CCTV schemes try to obey, but there is no consistency or minimum standards throughout the country, where terrorists or criminals may operate.
CCTV cameras which invade our privacy, on the promise of a trade off
with security, should be operated under an enforcable central registration and inspection scheme. CCTV technology itself is relatively cheap and reliable, it is the large scale management of this technology which is badly lacking.
A centralised registration and licensing scheme , should not be used as the basis for building a centralised panaopticon, actually linking lots of disparate CCTV systems together in real time, literally as in George Orwell's 1984
"The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live - did live, from habit that became instinct - in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and except in darkness, every movement scrutinised."
N.B. Todays CCTV cameras use infrared technology and can see in the dark and can zoom in beyond normal human visual range, and no longer need a wired infrastructure, but can work over mobile phone networks. The video and audio signals can be processed electronically to automatically attempt to pick out your face from a database of suspects. There is even research ongoing into classifying "suspicious" behaviour automatically from video images. Such CCTV systems have already been linked to automatically fire military weapons systems
If NuLabour want to respond to the lessons from the 7th July 2005 attacks in London, then they should legislate and fund such a public CCTV surveillance licensing and inspection scheme, instead of wasting money on expensive and unproven technology like biometric ID databases or Passive Millimetre Wave "see through your clothes" scanners etc.