You never really know if an idea will work. Professor William Webster (Centre for Research Information Surveillance and Privacy) thought that if he "built it people would come". And they did – lots of people!
Delivering a commitment made as part of the National Surveillance Camera Strategy (Citizen Engagement strand) we took over a part of London School of Economics, ran a ‘Question Time’ themed event, packed the panel with high profile and compelling people and got the party started. A great turn out ensured a buzz reverberated around the room before the auditorium quietened and the panellists issued their opening position statements.
The debate started with a challenging question from the floor - should we have an integrated National CCTV network - harnessing crime, national security and critical national networks with the plethora of other cameras (state owned and private) as they seemingly do in the Middle East? Great question and it certainly got the energy flowing. Mick Barton (Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary) made the point that if that's where society is going he’d rather run a Gîte in France! The panel acknowledged that whilst there would arguably be law enforcement benefits in such an approach the balance between privacy and security would be shifted far too easily and too heavily in the wrong direction as well as being a significant step towards a dystopian society. (I précis!).
The debate moved quickly to incorporate subjects such as ANPR, police use of body worn videos, emerging surveillance technologies, an absence of a clear basis in law for their use, regulation, the NHS, domestic CCTV, inappropriate retention of custody images of innocent people by the state and questioned whether CCTV was actually any value to preventing crime. New surveillance technologies featured heavily and Silkie Carlo, Director of Big Brother Watch provided a passionate argument against the use of automated facial recognition cameras in society suggesting that there is no clear basis in law for what are essentially biometric checkpoints and referencing their "Face Off" campaign. Simon Israel (Senior Home Affairs Correspondent for Channel 4 News) focused the debate upon the impact of surveillance on the citizen and wider society.
We were grateful for Lord Brian Paddick's presence. He illuminated the room with insights into the passage of the new Data Protection Bill, how GDPR will influence all manner of data processing and also focused on issues of divergence between member European States. We managed to hold onto him for the totality of the debate as he was required back at the House at the end of the event - great effort
Finally me - I participated but more importantly I listened. The most important aspect of the evening was to understand the views from the floor, and they were many and varied. I do have access to government and it's important I use that access to influence from a considered and informed perspective. My thanks go to all the panel members, to Professor Webster and to Professor Fussey who facilitated the event and to Mike Gillespie and his team for managing my twitter feed. Most importantly I thank those people who gave up their time and turned up to make up the audience and make the event such a positive experience. A great night and great initial feedback.