UK Liberty

Public doesn’t mind the use of surveillance on criminals

Posted in privacy, surveillance society by ukliberty on February 23, 2009

It seems to me some people are making more of this article than reasonable in terms of “look, this means people support all surveillance” or “this means they support more CCTV”:

The majority of the population supports councils using directed surveillance to tackle crimes such as drug dealing, theft and benefit fraud, a new report claims.

The New Local Government Network (NLGN) survey [direct link to PDF] shows the public supporting some use of spy technology by local authorities – despite many newspaper campaigns against “council snoopers”.

The poll of 300 people showed 64% of people believed it was appropriate for councils to use directed surveillance to tackle drug dealing, whilst 62% felt it was very appropriate for organised crime; 59% for theft and 50% for benefit fraud.

But only 17% of people thought it was appropriate for councils to use the powers set out in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 to check residents were not breaking school catchment rules. …

Local Government Chronicle

I think the last point is the pertinent one.  What the article (and survey) actually says is that the public doesn’t mind surveillance in relation to criminality, but it does mind surveillance of people who might be acting in a ‘bad’ way but not to the extent of criminality.  Context is all, as you might expect.

The sample size seems relatively small. I think the margin of error for that sample size is roughly 5%.  This suggests 12-23% of people think it is appropriate for councils to use RIPA in relation to school catchment areas, 45-55% think surveillance is appropriate in relation to benefit fraud, and so on.  Weirdly it also suggests 43-53% think surveillance is not appropriate in relation to organised crime (or they don’t know / have no opinion)… I would have guessed that a much smaller proportion would think that, if any.

In any case I don’t think the article does justice to the survey, which is actually more detailed than you might infer.

Again, it looks like context is all – which is what I think anyone would have guessed. For example, in relation to dog fouling, people largely approve of CCTV but wouldn’t approve of the interception of emails and phone calls.

The results show strong, majority support for councils being able to use video or photographic recordings to monitor most offences listed, with particularly strong support for taking action against drug dealing, theft and dangerous driving. However, there is much less support for councils using methods more closely associated with the security services, such as phone tapping or having access to personal e-mails.

Also it seems that the public are more inclined to trust a local police officer to be responsible for surveillance than a councillor or council staff, and that the public want detailed records made available of when surveillance was used and what for.

Quite heartening in some respects.



Prised open, kicking and screaming government

Posted in accountability, freedom of information, ID Cards by ukliberty on February 23, 2009

Sam Coates at the Times has a handy clipping from the most recent Private Eye, no. 1230, which provided that apposite title:

For those who wondered why last week the Cabinet Office apparently spontaneously published details of top civil servants’ freebies from big business in the greater interests of transparency — resulting in stories like this one — the new Private Eye has the answer. 

When the Cabinet Office last week published details of junkets enjoyed by our most senior civil servants, it claimed that “the decision to publish this list reflects the government’s continued commitment to openness and transparency”.

This was, er, bollocks. The junkets only emerged following a two-and-a-half campaign by Private Eye, hassling every Whitehall department for registers of hospitality for the three years up to 2006/07.Far from being open about these, the Cabinet Office orchestrated a cover-up under which all departments would say the older information would be too costly to obtain and that details for 2007 would be published in the “new year”. That was supposed to be the new year 2008, by the way. ….

In a similar vein,

The Office of Government Commerce has spent at least £140,000 on legal fees to keep secret two early Gateway reviews on the national ID cards scheme.

Costs will rise further if government lawyers appeal against a new order by the Information Tribunal to disclose the reviews.

On Thursday last week the Tribunal ordered – for a second time – that the reviews should be published. It gave the Office of Government Commerce 28 days to release them.

But the OGC is likely to appeal the Tribunal’s decision, which means it can continue to keep the reviews secret.

If the OGC were to lose any High Court appeal, it could take the case to the Law Lords. If it lost that too, ministers could veto to stop the reviews being published. 

Computer Weekly

(more on this case at SpyBlog and Tony Collins’ blog.)