UK Whistleblowers Highlight The Dangers Of Widespread Police Surveillance/Database

from the that-does-not-look-good dept

We've had numerous stories concerning some rather concerning trends in law enforcement, including the use of things like redlight cameras to increase revenue, not make things safer, as well as the fact that more data can often make it harder for law enforcement to keep people safe. Finally, we've had a bunch of posts on the fact that government databases will almost always be abused.

It looks like all of this is coming together in the UK (way ahead of the US), and the end result is something of a disaster. In the past, we'd already seen widespread expansion of UK camera-surveillance programs, even as there was evidence they weren't working. Add to that, the facts show that the increase in data was causing police to miss important clues, while other police were clearly abusing the system -- and you create quite a volatile situation.

It seems that whistleblowers are beginning to speak up about the end result of all of this in the UK, and it's not pretty at all. Basically, police are regularly abusing database systems to find questionable reasons to arrest people, just to boost either revenue or their own "stats" on arrests:
So fixated had officers become on their pursuit of arrests and ticket quotas that, until recently, the most successful vied for a prize known as the Bang It Out Cup. The officer with fewest results received the booby prize of an Underperforming Pig.

This target culture has allegedly led to unethical practices during roadside stops, according to concerned police sources. Some officers, they say, trawl through drivers' personal data on police databases to find any reason to arrest. Alternatively, they "wind up" motorists who, in their frustration, become abusive and are then arrested for a public-order offence.

"In short, officers do not have a complete understanding of the law, use flawed databases to justify immediate seizures, fail to adequately research and evidence the basis of their belief and almost certainly knowingly seize vehicles just to satisfy service and personal performance targets," one said.
These are the sorts of unintended consequences that people need to be aware of as this sort of surveillance society becomes prevalent elsewhere. Meanwhile, the stories of police trolling through the big database to find reasons to arrest people should (hopefully) quiet those who claim "if you've done nothing wrong, you've got nothing to worry about." If only that were true.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    The Anti-Mike (profile), Feb 5th, 2010 @ 2:00pm

    I don't think it is a problem of technology, it's a problem of their culture. If it wasn't CCTV, they would just walk down the streets randomly dropping parking tickets on cars or stopping people for jaywalking on green lights.

    You need to separate the technology from the problem.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    icon
    :Lobo Santo (profile), Feb 5th, 2010 @ 2:21pm

    Re: Culture?

    I believe the intent of this post was that CCTV cameras are not a solution.

    However, in response to your culture proposition, I believe it to also be untrue. Were there a culture of crime, then crime would go unpunished. Were there a culture of law-abidingness, then person would abide by the law. Are you were perhaps alluding to a culture of government corruption?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    :Lobo Santo (profile), Feb 5th, 2010 @ 2:23pm

    Re: Also

    Congrats on displaying a lack of economic ignorance, I shall henceforth reply to your posts in a thoughtful argument counter-argument way. You've earned it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    RD, Feb 5th, 2010 @ 2:23pm

    Re:

    "You need to separate the technology from the problem."

    Oh Jesus, here we go again....

    Listen, tool, the entire POINT is that the technology IS BEING ABUSED. That the tech makes it MUCH EASIER for those in power to abuse the citizenry. Its ABSURD to say "you need to take the tech out of the problem." Its the enabling factor OF the tech that is the issue. People have been abusing power since CREATION (or whatever you believe) but that doesnt mean we shouldnt question the use tech gets put to. If anything, we should question it MORE. And because the tech makes it SO much easier, the abuse goes up significantly, and becomes more widespread. Isnt this the EXACT argument you use AGAINST things like p2p and sharing songs?

    Or...have you now suddenly (like you dont do this EVERY time anyway) reversed yourself on the whole internet/file sharing/p2p

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    icon
    The Anti-Mike (profile), Feb 5th, 2010 @ 2:30pm

    Re: Re:

    I agree the technology is being abused. My point is that it isn't about technology, because under the same circumstances without the technology, they would find some other abusive way to generate more tickets.

    Example, where I live the local police force has added a whole task force for "public safety". It is pure horseshit, they are just the ticket writers. They hide behind buildings and in bushes, pulling people over for speeding, burned out tail lights, failing to signal a lane change, and all sort so other minor offenses. They were hired specifically with the objective to be "profitable".

    They haven't done crap for public safety, but they are generating millions of dollars of positive cash flow for the city. The are particularly good at hiding just after highway off ramps and ticketing people who haven't slowed from 60 to 30 in 10 feet.

    Effectively, they have found ways to abuse the system without having CCTV. I am sure that the UK police would find similar methods to obtain their results.

    It is an abuse of technology? yes. Is the technology the problem? no.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    icon
    The Anti-Mike (profile), Feb 5th, 2010 @ 2:32pm

    Re: Re: Culture?

    Are you were perhaps alluding to a culture of government corruption?

    I don't think of it as corruption so much as misdirected goals. They have corrupted the system by setting ticketing goals, which the officers are meeting by abusing the CCTV system. It isn't corruption at the level of trying to make a personal buck, as much as institutional stupidity.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Jack D, Feb 5th, 2010 @ 2:32pm

    Merchandising (and TOYS!) are the key to success.

    The biggest question is how they plan to merchandise this undertaking. For example, in the mid-to-late 1970s, the delivery business was non-existent. So pizzerias across the nation got together and created a line of childrens toys. After several tries, they struck gold. The invention was known as the "easy bake oven". With it, they included pizza kits knowing that it would take nearly an hour to cook in the "toy". They sold many of them, with a particularly high number of them sold to children named "Mike".

    And today, we have a fledgling pizzeria industry because in the 1970s, the toy section taught children who desired pizza in 20 minutes, could have runny pizza in an hour and a half.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 5th, 2010 @ 2:37pm

    Re:

    I don't think it is a problem of technology, it's a problem of their culture.

    Somehow, I knew TAM would be a surveillance camera apologist.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    icon
    A Dan (profile), Feb 5th, 2010 @ 2:38pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    I agree with you, to an extent, on this one. It's like how bad drivers are bad drivers whether they have cell phones in their hands or not. I'm still not interested, however, in records of exactly when and where I've been out of my home, regardless of lack of criminal history or oversight. If they want to watch people, they need to either have probable cause or 100% reasonable laws and transparency. The latter seems impossible.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    icon
    :Lobo Santo (profile), Feb 5th, 2010 @ 2:38pm

    Re: Re: Re: Culture?

    Agreed, but how best to correct 'institutional stupidity' which is entrenched? Perhaps, even, irreconcilable with the goals of the populace at large...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 5th, 2010 @ 2:40pm

    Re: Re: Re: Culture?

    I don't think of it as corruption so much as misdirected goals.

    Oh no, no corruption there at all. They just need to fine-tune their goals a little bit. [/sarcasm]

    It isn't corruption at the level of trying to make a personal buck, as much as institutional stupidity.

    Like an officer's personal income isn't affected by promotions tied to meeting arrest "goals".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    icon
    The Anti-Mike (profile), Feb 5th, 2010 @ 2:49pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Culture?

    In this case, I think the problem is a system where the number of tickets written is shared amongst the officers, creating competition. While in the short run this might lead to more tickets, in the long run it leads to people cutting corners and taking chances not to be last. The goal is good, but the end results are poor.

    I have worked in a retail company that paid commissions to agents only on certain things, but gave the agents some leeway in pricing the product. So what agents would do is determine the likelihood that people would buy the commissioned add-ons, and would lower the price of the product as far as they could go to "make the sale". Often, it would involve hosing customers into buying an extended warrantee or similar that they did not need (coverage already came with the product), but that would commission them at 35%.

    Managers would mistakenly reward the top seller each month publically, reinforcing the desire for some to make the money no matter what, even if they have to lie and cheat to get it done. Some would say that this still happens today at big box electronic stores.

    So the solution here might be to stop announcing the ticket counts, and eliminate the competition. That would likely cut the need or desire to game the system at the public's expense.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    icon
    a-dub (profile), Feb 5th, 2010 @ 2:52pm

    "Alternatively, they "wind up" motorists who, in their frustration, become abusive and are then arrested for a public-order offence."

    And this is something new? Law enforcement are specifically trained to escalate a situation in order for them to lawfully use force. This is nothing new, and if you have a trusted friend in law enforcement, ask them if they are trained in such a manner. The answer may shock you.

    The abuses that this post highlights is similar to the more serious problem of asset forfeiture. Once law enforcement agencies begin to incorporate proceeds from asset forfeiture into their yearly operating budgets, they develop an incentive to go out looking for assets to seize in order to maintain that income stream.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), Feb 5th, 2010 @ 2:54pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Culture?

    *This will likely be my last sober comment....

    "In this case, I think the problem is a system where the number of tickets written is shared amongst the officers, creating competition. While in the short run this might lead to more tickets, in the long run it leads to people cutting corners and taking chances not to be last. The goal is good, but the end results are poor."

    Er, why is the writing of more tickets INHERENTLY good? Or did I misunderstand? Shouldn't the ultimate goal be to write NO tickets?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    icon
    txchlinstructor (profile), Feb 5th, 2010 @ 2:55pm

    Abuse

    "Finally, we've had a bunch of posts on the fact that government databases will almost always be abused."

    Leave out the word "almost", and you will be more accurate.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    icon
    a-dub (profile), Feb 5th, 2010 @ 2:55pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Culture?

    Agreed. And their personal income is also subsidized by the narcotics and cash that doesn't make it to the evidence room.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    icon
    The Anti-Mike (profile), Feb 5th, 2010 @ 2:58pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Culture?

    tickets which stop something bad for society (speeding a school zone, example) are good by nature, as they help to make us all generally safer. The idea of a fine (or any punishment) is to bring the offender back into the society norm. So the goal of writing ticket where tickets are merited is good. The goal of not being the one with the least tickets is bad, because it encourages writing tickets that are not valid or are a little chintzy.

    By the way, if you are drinking, watch out for them smoking dogs, the might ignite you. :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Mr. Brown, Feb 5th, 2010 @ 3:06pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Culture?

    The US Congress has this problem as well and I have come to Washington to put a stop to it. First, could you tell me where I sign up for the free stuff and money?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    TW Burger (profile), Feb 5th, 2010 @ 3:29pm

    Watching the Watchers

    This is why I install auditing systems into every database system I design - systems I can't even bypass. When the system records every query, what was accessed, the time, the location (of the computer/terminal), and the logged in user the abuse goes way down, at least after the first person gets caught.

    The problem with government is that they control access to the auditing records and hide behind 'national security concerns'.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    James, Feb 5th, 2010 @ 3:29pm

    When does it stop?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), Feb 5th, 2010 @ 3:36pm

    Who should I contact?

    Mr. Masnick,

    I've been following this for a while... who should I contact in our government to try and get some answers?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    icon
    Peet McKimmie (profile), Feb 5th, 2010 @ 3:45pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Culture?

    What should happen:

    * Someone offends
    * a ticket is issued, creating a deterrent
    * fewer people offend afterwards
    * fewer tickets are issued

    What actually happens:

    * someone offends
    * a ticket is issued, creating a revenue stream
    * fewer people offend afterwards
    * In order to maintain the revenue stream, stricter interpretations of the law or misleading signage are used to generate more tickets

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 5th, 2010 @ 3:55pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Culture?

    Or stricter, more ridiculous laws are passed to ensure that everyone inherently violates the law no matter how hard they try not to.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 5th, 2010 @ 3:59pm

    Re: Re:

    IP maximists tend to be control freaks, it's not about what's best for society it's about enabling the rich to control the poor.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    icon
    Richard (profile), Feb 5th, 2010 @ 4:08pm

    Re: When does it stop?

    The CAA are trying to block this usage - as reported in the article (and I have seen the documents that they put out myself). They are very concerned about these things wandering into the path of regular aviation or crashing into a crowd of people on the ground.

    Fortunately they have quite a lot of independent power and are likely to prevail.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 5th, 2010 @ 4:36pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Culture?

    Then they can arrest everyone and just think about how much revenue that will bring in to the governmental entities!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 5th, 2010 @ 4:39pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    "It is an abuse of technology? yes. Is the technology the problem? no."

    Unless of course the technology being discussed is BitTorrent, and then it needs to be destroyed because it is evil.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    My hovercraft is full of ells, Feb 5th, 2010 @ 5:41pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Culture?

    I think you missed the point DH was making.

    My take was that the goal would be for no one to break the law.

    If there are quotas yto be met and no one breaks any laws - then what?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    :), Feb 5th, 2010 @ 5:50pm

    Future.

    Well, the technology is here and it is not going away, the thing is, are we the people able to put in safeguards?

    Databases will be abused yes no doubt about it, but to take that down will be almost impossible so in the face of that can we deal with what is to come?

    Governments everywhere are putting those things, some can be repudiated but others will not, so indignation alone will not cut it, we need safeguards or laws clearly stating bounds which I doubt will come.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    RD, Feb 5th, 2010 @ 6:08pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "It is an abuse of technology? yes. Is the technology the problem? no."

    Unless of course the technology being discussed is BitTorrent, and then it needs to be destroyed because it is evil."

    Yes, thats exactly right! You see, Bittorrent is inherently (INHERENTLY!) evil, its a "Wrong" thing. It doesnt matter that it CAN be used for good, only that most people have CHOSEN to use it "wrongly" and therefore its the fault OF THE TECH ITSELF!! According to TAM, this needs to be dealt with.

    Now, you might say, "but, thats hypocrisy!" and I would say, "yes it is. Meet TAM. He is the embodiment of it."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Feb 5th, 2010 @ 9:22pm

    Re: Who should I contact?

    Two comments ...

    The first being you should have contacted them as this was happening and should have paid attention.

    The second Its gonna be fun watching the 5th of november actually happening in you country.

    remember remember ... that it is the citizens duty to watch the government more than it watches you.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    icon
    Brandon (profile), Feb 5th, 2010 @ 10:05pm

    Re:

    I don't think it is a problem of technology, it's a problem of their culture. If it wasn't CCTV, they would just walk down the streets randomly dropping parking tickets on cars or stopping people for jaywalking on green lights.

    I'm not entirely sure about that. While obviously its a problem beyond technology that needs to be addressed, the enhanced technology allows for greater abuse that would otherwise not be accepted. Sure, there are certain people in law enforcement that would act like that but the majority of them, at least from the ones I know, wouldn't step that far had the technology not been around. For some reason, it seems technology enables this behavior to an extent. Maybe from the ease of use or as a way to enhance an odd justification. Also, with the tech and greater acceptance that technology 'has bugs' many just pay the fine/ticket and don't question it, in related to automated ticketing systems.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    icon
    The Anti-Mike (profile), Feb 6th, 2010 @ 4:38am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Ooo, look, an off topic rant.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    icon
    Fungo Knubb (profile), Feb 6th, 2010 @ 5:31am

    Who woulda guessed?

    Yep ... who woulda guessed that the police are abusing the databases. Is the population *THAT* naive? If so, they deserve all of the fallout from police abuse of the databases that the police can dish out. By the way, who is doing surveillance of the police?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    RD, Feb 6th, 2010 @ 7:55am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "Ooo, look, an off topic rant."

    Ooo look, the hypocritical troll who takes everything off-topic in EVERY article doesnt like it when someone else does it.

    When you have your finger pointing at someone, you have 3 pointing back at YOU.

    Hypocrisy, thy name is TAM.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2010 @ 7:58am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Ooo, look, an off topic rant.

    Ooo, look, an off topic rant.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2010 @ 12:20pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Gee, like when you were proven wrong repeatedly about the CDA, then proceeded to try to prove yourself correct in 5 different posts that had nothing to do with the CDA (and still failed)?

    Yeah, makes sense.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    Dave, Feb 6th, 2010 @ 2:33pm

    Vote of no confidence

    I have no confidence in UK police at all these days. I've reported offences to them, such as young boys aged about ten riding a miniature motorbike dangerously in a public area, and there was no sign of any officers attending in the half-hour I was there. Friend of mine recently got pulled over whilst driving, as he just happened to have his hand up to his face (itch or something similar!) and was accused of being on the phone, despite producing his phone from the depths of his trendy deep pocket (with difficulty, as he was obviously sitting down in the driving seat) and showing the cop the time and date of the last incoming and outgoing call. Copper said he would give him the benefit of the doubt! Seems the copper had an attitude problem, also. Yet another vote of no confidence in the UK fuzz.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    icon
    vivaelamor (profile), Feb 7th, 2010 @ 10:35am

    Re: Vote of no confidence

    I would liken it to my distrust of teachers, while I harbour little fondness for the profession I am still willing to believe that not all schools have a majority of bad teachers. I would judge a police officer on their actions rather than their uniform.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    identicon
    Jorit van den Bogaert, Oct 10th, 2010 @ 2:55pm

    Free energy

    A Long Kept Secret For Generating Free Electricity is Finally On The Open, And You'll Never Have To Pay A Single Dime to the Power Company! How would you like to create a generator which produces free electric energy? Using our easy-to-follow guide, you will be able to create a Magnetic Power Generator which creates absolutely free energy, and doesn't require any resource like wind or solar energy to function, the generator creates energy by itself and powers your home for free. The generator works fully off the grid and is easily built with the help of a technician. Thousands of working units have already been built worldwide, and it will only come down to YOUR skepticism or trust. I am only sharing my research! Just leave your mail at Jorit van den Bogaerts Blog and follow the steps to receive your magnetic generator DIY guide. All the raw materials needed cost less than 100$. The materials needed are very common, and can be easily found at your local hardware store. Once you get our generator set-up and working, you can even start building these generators for your friends and family. Simply take action on this! Best regards Jorit van den Bogaert

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    Tall sheepskin boots, Dec 12th, 2010 @ 5:56am

    Police Performance

    I think the problem lies in the Performance Management System of the Police. Why should they give awards to policemen who have issued more tickets and insult those who issued less? They should aim to lessen the tickets issued, not increase it. More tickets issued means that the more citizens are violators of the law, and they and the government should do something about that.Tall Sheepskin Boots

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This