Another story, but this time with real policemen – sort of. The interesting thing about the Safer Birmingham Partnership and its drive to cover Muslim areas of the city with ANPR cameras, using money from an “anti-terrorism fund”, isn’t so much the project in itself as what it reveals about the huge effort it will take to roll back the Major/Blair surveillance era.
This project exists in a zone beyond the public or private sectors, or central and local government; its lines of accountability, funding, and control bypass not just most of Birmingham City Council, parliament, and that stuff, but also the entire ministerial government. The funding, and therefore, presumably, the initiative comes straight from ACPO. The back-end infrastructure – the data centre and telecoms network – is also managed by ACPO, although it’s located at Hendon, on the government’s property.
At the local level, the agency responsible is a “partnership” between local councillors and the police – note that it’s not between the local council and the police, which implies that not all of them have been informed, and there has certainly not been a vote.
In fact, a cover story was used when the project broke ground – it was described as:
Those suspicious enough to ask what the cameras were for were given the impression they were part of a Home Office initiative to tackle vehicle crime on the Stratford Road corridor, an arterial route into the city.
This statement contains two lies, one of them regarding the cameras’ purpose, another regarding the institutional background. ACPO is not part of the Home Office and is not subject to parliamentary responsibility, civil service line management, the Freedom of Information Act, or indeed anything else.
Both the director of SBP and the police liaison officer (one Inspector Kevin Borg – presumably we will be assimilated. Join!) deny any knowledge of the scheme’s real aims, although there does seem to be some sort of problem with coordinating the many brains of the Borg.
“It was badged as Home Office money,” he [the Borg] said. “Terrorism and allied matters was not mentioned at that stage. I just don’t think it was a detail that needed to be discussed at that stage.”
He said he and the director of the SBP, Jackie Russell, who is in overall charge of the scheme, only discovered themselves that the cameras were installed as part of a counterterrorism initiative less than two months ago.
Very tellingly, though, the CCTV bureaucracy has no such trouble:
Colin Holder, who runs CCTV and ANPR for West Midlands police, said: “I’ve always known where the funding has come from. As far as I am aware, there was no intention to hide that from anyone.