Firstly I must begin by expressing my thanks to Brownhills Bob for the publicity he gave my last blog post. Secondly I would like to thank other local bloggers and tweeters who were also kind enough to read and redistribute my work. This newest post is a follow up to a piece that Bob ran last month about the appearances of a mystery CCTV camera in Friezland Lane, Walsall Wood.
Thanks to the recently censored Sgt John De-Hayes of West Midlands Police and other local contributors it was quickly established that the mystery camera belonged to Walsall Housing Group. WHG claimed they had informed residents in writing about the camera albeit they failed to provide public signage.
Moving forward a few weeks and I found myself in hot pursuit of a moggie, which in turn was chasing a squirrel just beyond St. James Church Cemetery on Great Charles Street. After realising that both of my potential targets could climb fences far more effectively than myself, I slowed to a canter and continued up Great Charles Street abandoning my pursuit in the process. On the corner of Great Charles Street and Vernon Avenue I happened to glance skywards whereupon I spied a recently installed CCTV camera affixed to a lamp-post.
22nd September 2012
This camera is operated by Walsall Council, who unlike Walsall Housing Group, have decided to comply with the Data Protection Act in a far more straightforward way, by placing two signs underneath, one clearly stating that they are running the scheme, why it is in place and how to contact them for further information, the other banning ball games – I find this a strange combination, not to mention unfair on ball loving canniness.
22nd September 2012 – On reflection, the No Ball Games sign may be unrelated
Interestingly however, this camera’s location was only short lived. A few weeks later, still outraged about the ‘No Ball Games’ sign I summed up the courage to return to the spot with my best tennis ball and make a formal protest under the CCTV camera. However, upon arrival the camera had vanished.
10th October 2012
Dismayed that my civil disobedience was to go unrecorded I slumped off in the direction of Vicarage Road. However, just as I had given up hope of being able to play ball under the watchful eye of the local authorities I spotted the cameras new home, now attached to the lamp-post at the top of Ogley Crescent.
10th October 2012 – Binoculars required to read the sign
It seems that our Council have gotten quite a taste of using CCTV in built up residential areas, an interesting development. Now, I must make my position clear. I am not against the use of CCTV for the prevention of crime and anti-social behaviour in our towns and city centres. However, bringing it in to residential areas does pose a few questions.
There have been several cases in the past decade that I am aware of, where individuals responsible for monitoring CCTV in residential areas have used their position to make and store inappropriate images. Sadly I no longer have the links to these stories, however they include CCTV operatives recording people in various states of undress in their bathrooms, living rooms gardens and so forth. It is a criminal offence to do so and offenders are often forced to sign the sex offenders register as part of their punishment.
I am not trying to argue that this sort of behaviour is inevitable, however have a look at this CCTV footage that has made its way on to Youtube and then consider whether you would be comfortable with a council run dome camera sitting a few metres outside of your bedroom window.
In view of all of this I would like Walsall Council to answer these basic questions:
1) How is the need for the use of CCTV in residential areas established?
2) Where are images recorded and which staff / contractors have access to them?
3) After deciding to use CCTV in a residential area how often is the need for the continued use of each installation reviewed?
4) What if anything is done to physically prevent cameras being able to view the inside of domestic dwellings? – By this I refer to cameras being programmed to pixelate, computer generated blackout or other means of image distortion when cameras pan across a field of view that looks in to a dwelling
5) If the answer to Q4 is, ‘Nothing, we trust our staff not to do this’ then how often is footage audited to ensure correct use?
I sincerely hope that someone from the council can comment on this, so that we are all aware of the current policy and safeguards that are in place to prevent abuse of CCTV systems in such intimate locations. I am not trying to argue that CCTV in these types of area is a good or bad thing per se, only that it is a subject that needs close attention and careful monitoring if local residents are to be kept on board.
To finish, may I also respectfully request that any footage found of a small dog chasing a ball in a restricted ball-game area is deleted and not passed on to the local dog warden for intelligence purposes. Otherwise, I look forward to hearing from the council. Many thanks