Q&A: Birmingham 'terror cameras'


Surveillance cameras in parts of Birmingham with large Muslim populations have been covered up by plastic bags after local objections. What are the issues?

Why were the cameras put up?

Safer Birmingham Partnerships (SBP) - a partnership of the police, the city council and other agencies - said 218 cameras, including 72 hidden ones, were put up to tackle all crime, predominately in the Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook wards.

But critics claim the SBP has been misleading.

Roger Godsiff, Labour MP for Hall Green, said he was concerned the principle function was to monitor extremists the police and MI5 suspected were living among Birmingham's Muslim community.

He tabled a Commons saying the covert cameras "constituted a grave infringement of civil liberties" and called for a public consultation.

How many cameras are there?

SBP said 106 cameras are Automatic Number Plate Recognition devices that are only trained on car registration plates at road level.

Thirty-eight overt CCTV cameras have been installed, and 72 cameras had been placed covertly.

Who paid for the cameras?

The cameras were financed through a counter-terrorism fund.

The Home Office allocated money to the Association of Chief Police Officers' (Acpo) Terrorism and Allied Matters (TAM) department, who vetted applications and distributed the money.

"In a nutshell, applications come in from places like councils or police forces, Acpo TAM checks they fit the criteria and distributes funds.

"Part of the criteria is the bid has to have proved the project would deter or prevent terrorism or help prosecute those responsible," a spokeswoman said.

She said the Acpo TAM budget for the financial year 2009-2010 had been £245m, and Safer Birmingham Partnerships had received £3m.

Was there a public consultation?

No, but there will be now.

A SBP spokeswoman said initially councillors and constituent directors from the main focus of the project had been informed of the plans, but part of the problem was ward boundaries had changed so all the relevant representatives had not been consulted.

"The area expanded, or went across the road and therefore into another boundary," she said.

What happens next?

SBP said a number of concerns had been raised and a public consultation had now been launched to give people the right to express their views.

Plastic bags have been put over the cameras - although not the covert ones - until after the consultation has been carried out.

Corinna Ferguson, legal officer at human rights group Liberty, said the "belated" consultation would give local people a platform to voice their "absolute rejection of this discriminatory scheme".

"Putting bags over cameras will not conceal the project's true agenda, and Liberty will continue to pursue the protection of residents' privacy under the Human Rights Act," she said.

The Information Commissioner's Office, which advises organisations on the use of of CCTV, says the use of CCTV cameras must be "reasonable and proportionate" to maintain public trust, and must not breach the Data Protection Act 1998.

"It is important to let people know that they are in an area where CCTV surveillance is being carried out - for instance by installing proper signage.

"Under the Data Protection Act's (DPA) notification requirements organisations are also required to notify the purposes for which they will be processing personal information, which can cover the use of CCTV for particular purposes such as the prevention and detection of crime," a spokesman said.

How many CCTV cameras are there in the UK?

Human rights group Liberty estimates there are about 4.5m CCTV cameras in the UK but says there is no accurate figure, and no way of knowing how many of those are hidden.

What does the government say?

In his election campaign, Prime Minister David Cameron made much of his intention to roll back the "surveillance state".

A Home Office spokesman said the situation in Birmingham was agreed under the previous administration but work was "already under way" on CCTV regulation.

"Introducing proper regulations will ensure the use of CCTV is proportionate and retains public confidence.

"The government will be bringing forward proposals as soon as possible."

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