Anti-CCTV activists force British police to bag Muslim-trained cameras
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Birmingham residents have won Britain's first battle in the war against CCTV after forcing police to stop using hundreds of cameras in a predominantly Muslim area. The leader of the campaign explains how the tide turned. Read more...
A bagged CCTV camera in Sparkbrook, Birmingham on Tuesday. Photo by Steve Jolly.
Birmingham residents have won Britain's first battle in the war against CCTV after forcing police to stop using hundreds of cameras in a predominantly Muslim area.
Britain is the world CCTV capital with over four million surveillance cameras across the country - that's around one camera for every 15 people. On Sunday, the drive to increase this number even further was forced into the spotlight when a group of residents from Birmingham, central England, organised the first ever community-initiated meeting concerning what they dub "spy cams".
The campaign began when local residents launched an investigation into why the city's two largest Muslim communities had been ringfenced by hundreds of CCTV cameras in April.
They revealed that local authorities had lied about where the £3m [3.6m euro] used to pay for the operation had come from. The money was not, as had been claimed, from the Home Office, but rather from an anti-terror arm of the police.
They also discovered that "Project Champion" comprised a total of 218 cameras - 72 of them hidden. The authorities had initially cited only 40 hidden cameras.
On Sunday 4 July the campaigners held a meeting about the project, inviting anti-CCTV speakers from both Muslim and non-Muslim communities to discuss the controversy. The attendees voted unanimously for all the cameras to be removed. And to their surprise, the local police apologised and agreed to bag the cameras until a public consultation was held.
Anti-CCTV residents voice their complaints
Posted on theBirmingham Spy Cameras - NO THANKS! Facebook group by Barnard Hobbit.
Posted on the Birmingham Spy Cameras - NO THANKS! Facebook group by Steve Jolly.
Posted on the Birmingham Spy Cameras - NO THANKS! Facebook group BY Steve Jolly.
Posted on theBirmingham Spy Cameras - NO THANKS! Facebook group by Steve Jolly.
Artwork on the door of an Islamic arts centre in Sparkbrook, one of the targeted areas. Posted on the Birmingham Spy Cameras - NO THANKS! Facebook group by Steve Jolly.
“It dawned on me that the whole thing had been done purely to spy on Muslims”
Steve Jolly initiated the campaign "Birmingham Against Spy Cameras". He's from Moseley, one of the CCTV-targeted areas. He runs the blog Spy on Moseley.
When I got back from a weekend away in mid-April I noticed a camera outside my house. I was surprised as I live in quite an affluent, leafy suburb with a low crime rate. So I asked my local councillor about it. I was then passed from the police to the highways department and eventually, the Safer Birmingham Partnership [a government agency charged with local safety initiatives].
They gave me an old press release which announced the establishment of cameras in my area, allegedly in order to cut crime and increase public safety. It struck me as very sinister. And when I asked the police where the other cameras were placed they wouldn't give me the map because they said ‘it might end up on the internet'.
Posted on Facebook by Steve Jolly.
So, I went round in my car photographing each camera. When I marked the cameras on a map it struck me that they surrounded a largely Muslim area. I then retrieved data from the Birmingham council on the demographics of the area according to religion. And to no great surprise, I was right.
On the left, Steve's map of areas with CCTV cameras. On the right, prominently Muslim areas outlined by the local council.
My map was confirmed when the police were forced to issue the map of security cameras under the Freedom of Information Act. Realising that the project was really very dodgy, I did a bit more digging and got hold of the minutes from a council meeting, in which it was mentioned that the cameras should not be talked about to the general public. It was also mentioned that the project was in fact funded by the ACPO PAM [Association of Chief Police Officers, Terrorism and Allied Matters]. That's when it dawned on me that the whole thing had been done purely to spy on Muslims! I have been campaigning against it ever since.
A real end to the spy cams?
The meeting we held was an astounding success. However, I'm not overly optimistic about the public consultation. It's a tough job convincing Brits to protest against CCTV. The British people are hoodwinked into thinking that cameras stop crime, despite all the studies and statistics that prove otherwise. I've been harassed and verbally attacked in the street by people who think cameras are useful. They can't understand why constant surveillance is dangerous for privacy and civil liberty."
Authorities placed signs on the cameras after months of campaigning from local residents. Image posted on Facebook by Steve Jolly.
Alfred Road, Sparkbrook. Police have begun bagging the cameras after their defeat on Sunday. Photo taken on Tuesday by Steve Jolly.
Photo by Steve Jolly.
Photo by Steve Jolly.