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.

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Comments on “UK Whistleblowers Highlight The Dangers Of Widespread Police Surveillance/Database”

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41 Comments
:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

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?

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

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.

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 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.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 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?

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 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. 🙂

Peet McKimmie (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 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

Anonymous Coward says:

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”.

RD says:

Re: 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

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

Re: 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.

A Dan (profile) says:

Re: 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.

RD says:

Re: Re: Re:2 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.”

Brandon (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Jack D says:

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.

a-dub (profile) says:

“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.

TW Burger (profile) says:

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’.

Richard (profile) says:

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.

:) says:

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.

Dave says:

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.

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Tall sheepskin boots (user link) says:

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

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