Plastic Bags to Be Put Over Birmingham ‘Terror Cameras’

BBC News, June 17, 2010

Bags are to be put over dozens of surveillance cameras in parts of Birmingham with large Muslim populations, after local objections.

Safer Birmingham Partnership (SBP) said 218 cameras were put up, including hidden ones, mainly in the Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook districts.

The cameras were financed through a counter-terrorism fund, but the SBP said they would tackle all crime.

Councillor Salma Yaqoob said people had lost faith in the authorities.

The Respect Party councillor for Sparkbrook said: “In terms of reassurance it’s going to take a lot more than plastic bags.

“The residents have lost faith with the authorities for their sneaky handling of the way they went about this and will not be reassured until they have been told the locations of the hidden cameras too.”

SBP–a partnership of the police, the city council and other agencies–said 72 cameras had been placed covertly but that they would not be covered by the plastic bags.

The partnership said it would not be placing bags on these hidden cameras because it does not want to reveal their location.

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

These are to be covered along with 40 other overt cameras, SBP said.

But none of the cameras–overt or covert–are to be used until a consultation has been carried out, SBP claimed.

The cameras were financed through the Association of Chief Police Officers’ (Acpo) Terrorism and Allied Matters (TAM).

In a statement in April, the SBP said it had received £3m from the Home Office to improve community safety and reduce crime in the Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook wards.

“Although the counter-terrorism unit was responsible for identifying and securing central government funds and have overseen the technical aspects of the installation, the camera sites were chosen on the basis of general crime data–not just counter-terrorism intelligence,” the SBP said on Thursday.

SBP said a number of concerns had been raised and it wanted to give people the right to express their views.

Roger Godsiff, Labour MP for Hall Green, said: “I put down an early day motion in the House of Commons expressing my concern about the way it had been handled and saying that there should be proper public consultation before the cameras are activated.

“If that’s what the police have now decided to do, I applaud them for doing so.”

Ayoub Khan, Birmingham City Council’s community safety portfolio holder, said a detailed consultation ought to have taken place before the cameras were installed.

He said the partnership was now reviewing why this had not happened.

The camera idea was first proposed by Home Office counter-terrorism officers in April 2009, Mr Khan said.

“I was informed that this was to attack anti-social behaviour and various other criminal behaviour with a bolt-on of some terrorism activity detecting too.”

Mr Khan said because of the way it had been presented the idea received the support of many councillors, but explained that he had no idea that so many cameras would be installed in only a few Birmingham wards or that they would be “circling in” the community living there.

Steve Jolly, one of those who first began campaigning about the cameras, said people had been “misled”.

He said: “Now the truth is out, there’s a lot of anger.

“Certain communities have been ring-fenced and saturated with cameras, making it impossible for you to get in or out without being tracked.

“What’s happening here is the government is spying on its citizens covertly in some cases, without their knowledge or consent, and it’s a gross invasion of privacy and civil liberties.”

Mr Jolly described the latest developments as “a victory” and “a start” but added: “It’s not the conclusion, though.

“The cameras are already in now. There’s going to be a lot of reluctance to have them taken away.”

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