The BBC1 TV Politics Show this Sunday had a segment on the Surveillance Society which Britain has now become. (you can view the programme online from their web page)
However, like all British broadcast TV programmes, the producers tried to cram too much into their limited time, in order to have "interesting" visual images, and they reduced what were obviously quite long interviews to literally a couple of sentences as "soundbites".
The headline interview, which had been trailed all morning on BBC News 24, even with some studio discussions from pundits, was with Ian Readhead, Deputy Chief Constable of Hampshire Police,. He questioned the usefulness, from a policing point of view, of installing CCTV surveillance cameras in rural villages which suffer little crime of any sort, let alone that which might be deterred by CCTV cameras.
As we have pointed out before, in such villages, the CCTV either just records or is monitored from a control room many miles away, too far to send an immediate response to any incident which is picked up by the operators in time to do any good.
He also questioned the current practice of the Police keeping DNA and other data effectively for the rest of your life if you have been arrested for a recordable offence, even if you are never charged or are found not guilty of any offence.
The rest of the interviews were far shorter, literally just "soundbites", which seems to be so prevalent with broadcast TV current affairs or news media. It is certain that each of the contributors recorded an awful lot more for the programme, almost all of which was rejected in the editorial selection process, leaving just a couple of sentences, often prefaced by a voiceover from the presenter.
This is no particular criticism of the presenter Max Cotton, it seems to be the standard British Television approach to current affairs and news which involves any sort of technology issues.
There were contributions from the Information Commissioner Richard Thomas, and from Jeremy Brown MP for Taunton, a Liberal Democrat member of the Home Affairs Select Committee which is currently inquiring into "Surveillance State ?".
Richard Thomas made the merest mention of function creep, commercial database profiling, miniature CCTV in lampposts, audio capable CCTV, RFID chips in clothing etc. all of which are likely to be familiar to Spy Blog readers,
However, the average BBC TV viewer must have been mystified by these topics, which each deserve their own full programmes, and would have been left unaware of the centralised national databases which amplify the risks of individual surveillance technologies or individual equipment installations such as CCTV cameras.
The section showing totally unnecessary fingerprinting of children at a Surrey school, for Library administration purposes, along with statements like "the children enjoy it" and "no parents have complained" belies the true picture of the KiddyPrinting and Surveillance indoctrination scandal in our schools - see Leave Them Kids Alone campaign.
The programme then leapt from this allegedly non-controversial use of biometriics, to
the very controversial issue of DNA and Fingerprint database record data retention
Again Deputy Chief Constable Ian Readhead was entirely right to question the current policy of retaining such data and blacklisting and disproportionately discriminating against people for, say, employment purposes, which is the current Labour Government policy.
The disgraced former Home Secretary David Blunkett's was also only given a short soundbite, where he seemed to be in favour of privacy at home (with his scandalous private life, is that any wonder ?) but he argued for appropriate surveillance in communities to protect themselves, but only with regard to CCTV in the streets, claiming that it should be no more intrusive than if there was a policeman or police support officer on the spot.
This simplistic view cunningly ignores the fact that CCTV is not equivalent to a Policeman on the spot, who can act immediately and who can be reasoned with or reported if they are acting inappropriately.. Almost all CCTV surveillance is recorded by faceless private sector operatives or bureaucrats and it is increasingly being digitally processed in various sophisticated, yet very fallible ways such as Automatic Number Plate Recognition, Facial Biometrics, Gait Recognition Biometrics, Suspicious Behaviour Recognition etc, some of which were shown in last week's "institutionally voyeuristic" BBC homage to the joys of surveillance.
Blunkett was not asked, or perhaps refused, to justify the policies on DNA and Fingerprint retention, which he is personally partly to blame for, as they were introduced whilst he was Home Secretary.
The piece ended with a street scene in Southwark, London, which is one of the areas
which is being given Home Office grants for shouting CCTV camera upgrades, but none of these were yet in evidence.
Max Cotton ended with the usual, unsourced, media soundbites about "4 million cameras" and being caught on CCTV "300 times a day", something which may well be both an underestimate given that these guesses are now several years old, and at the same time an overestimate for people outside of big city centres not using public transport. See "monitored on CCTV 300 times a day" etc. soundbites
Overall, it is good to see the BBC raising some of the issues of the Surveillance Society to an audience which might have the power to change public policies, but it was all rather superficial and tried to do to cover too much in one short programme.