London's Third Wall And Surveillance Function Creep

from the paranoia,-electromagnetism-and-infrastructure dept

The UK is infamous for the Orwellian number of its CCTV cameras dotted around the land. And as the UK is to the world, so London is to the UK, with an even more extreme level of surveillance taking place 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As part of “an investigation into paranoia, electromagnetism, and infrastructure,” James Bridle decided to walk around the inner core of London known as the “Congestion Charge Zone,” which requires all vehicles that enter to pay a fee — the idea being that this will reduce unnecessary traffic and thus air pollution in the capital. For reasons explained in Bridle’s entertaining post, he never made it all the way around the London Congestion Charge Zone’s perimeter, but he did manage to record around half of the surveillance cameras he encountered on his way — all 427 of them — which he turned into an interactive map.

His post explains how those cameras form a “Third London Wall,” next in sequence after the original one built by the Romans in the late second century, and still visible in places today, and the Second London Wall, created on the orders of the City of London Police, following two major bombings by the Provisional Irish Republican Army in the 1990s. The Second Wall consisted of “sentry boxes and roadblocks, with access streets narrowed to chicanes to slow vehicles at designated choke points.” As Bridle notes, that Second London Wall has now been abandoned, or rather subsumed into the more subtle, because largely invisible, Third Wall, based on automated surveillance cameras:

The core technology of the Third Wall, again pioneered but only partially implemented by the Second, is Automated Number Plate Recognition, or ANPR. Installations of over 800 ANPR cameras record the unique ID of every vehicle which enters the Zone in vast databases for later analysis.

Bridle gives what is one of the best descriptions of how surveillance function creep takes place:

When the Wall was initially constructed, the public were informed that this data would only be held, and regularly purged, by Transport for London, who oversee traffic matters in the city. However, within less than five years, the Home Secretary gave the Metropolitan Police full access to this system, which allowed them to take a complete copy of the data produced by the system.

This permission to access the data was granted to the Police on the sole condition that they only used it when National Security was under threat. But since the data was now in their possession, the Police reclassified it as “Crime” data and now use it for general policing matters, despite the wording of the original permission. As this data is not considered to be “personal data” within the definition of the law, the Police are under no obligation to destroy it, and may retain their ongoing record of all vehicle movements within the city for as long as they desire.

It is only too easy to see how the vast stores of data being built up under new data retention laws around the world might follow a similar trajectory: from being “purged” every few years, to made routinely accessible to the police — but only when national security was involved — and finally turning into data for routine investigations. The moral here is clear: to deal with the problem of surveillance function creep the only sure solution is not to allow the data to be stored in the first place.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and on Google+

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “London's Third Wall And Surveillance Function Creep”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Londoner says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“In the UK, you are unlikely to be shot by a cop, most of them are still unarmed, and you will not be robbed by a cop, unlike other countries I could name. You are also unlikely to be assaulted as, Assaulting a shop lifter is ground for dismissal from the police, after being found guilty of assault.”

We are working on changing those things as quickly as possible. Change takes time.

Ninja (profile) says:

The moral here is clear: to deal with the problem of surveillance function creep the only sure solution is not to allow the data to be stored in the first place.

Or, you know, be less paranoids (even if it means going to the psychiatrist) and reduce the surveillance apparatus. Amusingly, putting more cameras to fight terrorism just attacks the symptom (terrorism) and not the disease.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Amusingly, putting more cameras to fight terrorism just augments the symptom (terrorism) and not the disease.

Placing cameras everywhere possible makes people feel like they’re constantly being watched, likely increasing tensions in an area.

First half I agree with completely, the only real way to ‘beat’ terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. To refuse to be cowed, and carry on life as before, at most taking some basic security precautions.

PaulT (profile) says:

“The UK is infamous for the Orwellian number of its CCTV cameras dotted around the land.”

Largely due to one stupid study that extrapolated one busy street in London as if it reflected the whole country, and treated any privately-owned cameras that happened to have view of the street (for example those in corner shops and outside pubs/nightclubs) as if they were government operated. Most people living outside of central London recognised this is being a load of crap, but it gets repeated as if it were true.

“the London Congestion Charge Zone’s perimeter”

So, the most visited part of one of the most populous cities in the world has a lot of traffic cameras (which everybody knows about)? But, scary numbers! Be afraid!

There’s problems to be discussed, but the blindingly obvious combined with scare tactics based on faulty evidence really isn’t a good place to start. The mission creep in how the data is used and stored is certainly something to be discussed, let’s go with that angle instead of the “lots of cameras” scare stories, hmm?

Anonymous Coward says:

and that is exactly why the UK, among others, is so desperate to hang on to this data, and are hell bent on ignoring the EU law on data retention. the people dont matter at all any more. all that matters is state surveillance to as extreme as possible, even though the chances of it helping locate terrorists is almost zilch. that’s because the main aim is to watch the ordinary people, who, having nothing to hide, hide nothing. that makes them/us easy meat for security forces!

Anonymous Coward says:

They got rid of paper road tax, now theres a relieance on surveilance cameras, coincendence?

Uk/Us is gonna become worse then those they demonize, with these tools they should never have had to begin with, or the “authority” they’ve given themselves by no consent……i suspect their behaviour towards individuals is gonna become very violent ovr the next few years as folks continue to stand up for the individual right, and these supposed tools and supposed authority brought about by their bedtime bogey man stories, in times of tension, will then be used against the people……..these self important, egotistical maniacs……they think themselves very clever, and us very dumb

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve seen the work of really skilled prosthetic makeup artists, who can make a person look like anyone. Ever seen Worf the Klingon on Star Trek?

I imagine prosthetic makeup will be used to defeat facial recognition systems. Instead of looking like Klingons, determined individuals will take on the appearance of an ordinary person in the local area who won’t trip any facial recognition sensors.

As for the license plate readers. That’s an even easier problem to solve. Just look for a car of the same make, model and color as the one you’re driving. Then borrow that car’s license plate. Yeah you could steal a car, but eventually it will be reported stolen and the license plate red flagged.

Moral of the story. Determined and possibly dangerous people will still have their privacy, while all the law abiding average Joe’s will be forced to sacrifice their privacy in return for no security what so ever.

Anonymous Coward says:

Roles have switched

We’re now held accountable our whole lives and the government is only held accountable up to a handful of years, and that’s if we can pry the data out of their hands. Wasn’t it the other way around not too long ago? I guess when you start down a slippery slope it becomes a full blown ride in a pretty short time. I’m just waiting for the crash ending.

Julian (profile) says:

Anyone watching?

There are cameras everywhere in London. But try reporting some petty crime like a stolen bicycle or motorcycle. Or an accident like a pedestrian being hit by a bus in Oxford St. And the cameras are no use at all. More and more I’m convinced that the forces of control have neither the manpower, time nor ability to do anything with them. The cameras are on but nobody’s watching. However it’s clear that fully automated systems like the speed cameras, minor traffic cameras and Congestion Charge cameras do work.

In the last year or so, ID systems have appeared in clubs, venues and even some pubs. To get in you have to present some ID like a driving license and have your mugshot taken. I wonder exactly who is training their facial recognition systems.

Mine’s the one with the ultra powerful IR LEDs sewn into the lapels.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Anyone watching?

“But try reporting some petty crime like a stolen bicycle or motorcycle…. However it’s clear that fully automated systems like the speed cameras, minor traffic cameras and Congestion Charge cameras do work.”

Most of those cameras only take a picture when triggered by a particular event (speed cameras are triggered by someone speeding, for example), or are not watched by any human being at all (the congestion cameras) by design. They often don’t record any live footage at all. Of course they’re not going to be much use if you demand footage that was never taken.

“In the last year or so, ID systems have appeared in clubs, venues and even some pubs. To get in you have to present some ID like a driving license and have your mugshot taken. I wonder exactly who is training their facial recognition systems.”

I’m not familiar with those systems, but if you’re getting a photo taken with the ID displayed, I’d suggest there’s not any facial recognition going on at all. They’re more likely to be taking photographic evidence so that the club owner can defend themselves against later prosecution if someone’s found to be underage. It was a long time ago now, but the underage drinking rules seem to be a lot more tightly enforced since I was 17 and trying (and sometimes succeeding) to get into those places.

Saga Noren says:

What’s scary about CCTV surveillance is not that the government is watching – they’re entitled to, in public. Rather, the problem is that it’s all one-way. How can the public make the government accountable, and how can the public benefit from the cameras? The public is denied access.

From the article: “the police officers explained that carrying a camera in the vicinity of Central London was grounds for suspicion. … Carrying a camera thus justified the suspicion of the security guards who stopped me and performed a citizen’s arrest, detaining me until the arrival of the police… who threatened me with arrest if I did not identify myself and explain my actions. For carrying a camera, I was told, I could be taken to the station and charged with ‘Going Equipped’, a provision of the 1968 Theft Act which determines the imprisonment for up to three years of anyone carrying equipment which may be used to commit a burglary.

“Of course, … as dictated in numerous statements by the Metropolitan Police themselves, is not… a crime. But… the law comes a distant second to the exercise of power itself.”

security systems in chennai-esync (user link) says:

E-sync security dealing security alarm systems chennai and burglar alarm system manufacturers, dealers, distributors and suppliers.

We are direct dealing security alarm systems chennai most reliable and affordable one to secure home or corporates burglar alarm system manufacturers, dealers, distributors and suppliers in chennai. we give wide range of Fire & Burglar Alarm to provide effective, comprehensive security alarm system in chennai.To know security alarm systems chennai call us@ 7299004295.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...