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SECRET CAMERAS SPY ON BRUM SUBURBS

17-04-2010

Security Camera

Birmingham’s CCTV network has been dramatically extended by a new generation of spy cameras in the south of the city – some of which will be hidden in secret locations. Residents have also complained about the lack of consultation – and say that wheelchair users and pram pushers are being obstructed by the bulky bases of these installations.

The Stirrer was first alerted to the issue by IT consultant Chris Jones who noticed obtrusive new cameras in School Road, Moseley where he lives.

Security Camera

They’ve also cropped up in other residential areas such as Greenhill Road, and Billseley Lane.

Chris said: “I was amazed to discover that the authorities want to monitor my movements 24/7 – especially in a residential street.

“I can understand why cameras might be beneficial in the high street, but not in places like this.

“These cameras are overlooking people’s houses at height of the bedroom – it’s hard to believe they aren’t looking into people’s homes.

“There are plans for a new Tesco locally, and at least we get asked about that – but we don’t get asked if we want these cameras.”

Our enquiries led us to the Safer Birmingham Partnership, a crime prevention quango bringing together the police, local authority and other statutory bodies.

They’ve secured £3m funding from the Home Office and confirmed that cameras capable of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) are being installed in Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook – identified as “priority crime neighbourhoods” – as well as Kings Heath and Moseley.

According to the Partnership, they’ll help detect a range of offences including “burglary, robbery, vehicle crime, anti-social behaviour, drug dealing and traffic offences right through to terrorism.”

They insist the camera locations aren't secret, but admit they haven't been made public, either.

And, crucially, they concede, “The project also includes a small number of covert cameras the locations of which cannot be disclosed as this would seriously compromise Police intelligence information.”

It's a moot point whether this is consistent with the right to privacy enshrined in the Human Rights Act - and it's questionable whether the police can legally snoop on the public in this generalised, random way.

Citizens have rights under the Data Protection Act to view footage in which they appear - and they can hardly do that when they are unaware they've been filmedin the first place.

Then there's the issueof who knew about this initiative in advance.

Kings Heath and Moseley were apparently chosen as camera sites because they have roads that lead to Sparkbrook, and the Partnership admits that consultation in these areas was lacking because they were only added after the initial funding application.

A spokesperson admitted, “this is clearly something we must improve upon in
the future.

“We got that wrong – and we are now going to brief ward members and senior officials from partner agencies working in Kings Heath and Moseley and we hope that when we have given them the full information that they will see the benefits that this brings and work with us as their colleagues are working with us in Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath.”

In the other areas, though, “The Safer Birmingham Partnership briefed the Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Local Services at the beginning of the consultation exercise on both the programme and the ward level consultation.

"We have also briefed ward Councillors, Constituency Directors and Local Community Safety Managers...”

So an "inner circle" of elected representatives and officers knew that covert spy cameras were being introuduced in Brum - but it was never discussed in an democratically accountable public forum. Hmmmm.

It's also emerged that no planning permission is needed for these cameras, and Moseley and Kings Heath councillor Martin Mullaney has complained that in some locations they pose an obstruction.

Cllr Mullaney said, “The base of these cameras is so big, I know of one where it wouldn’t be possible to push a double buggy or a wheelchair”.

The Partnership says that they are open to discussion about where the cameras are located.

As for the key issue of intrusion, they say: “All of the cameras in Kings Heath and Moseley ward are ANPR cameras.

“ANPR cameras are designed purely to record the vehicle registration plates of passing vehicles and do not, therefore, intrude in any way on properties or the private lives of those living in the area.”

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