by Nathan Allonby
CCTV has led to large scale arrests, following the recent student protests in London, over increased tuition fees. A total of over 180 people have been arrested, with the majority identified by CCTV.
The current arrests very much represent a landmark – we are now equipped for the Chinese approach to public order, in almost a complete reversal previous British policing.
The power of the new system is based on the ability to track down individuals at leisure. However, this ability could be used as easily to track anyone, in “political policing” of lawful democratic activity.
More than 180 people have been arrested by police investigating rioting during the series of protests against rising student tuition fees.
Senior officers said the vast majority of the 182 suspects were aged between 17 and 25 and have never been involved in violence or criminal acts before.
Detective Chief Superintendent Matt Horne, who is leading the inquiry, said he expects the figure to grow considerably as 80 officers comb through video footage.
Speaking at New Scotland Yard… he said the inquiry could take months to complete. … “What struck me is the number of people arrested who did not go that day with necessarily any intention of committing any violent action.”
Evening Standard, London
Police had been criticised for their handling of the protests, particularly the tactic of “kettling“, where large groups – hundreds – of demonstrators were confined for several hours and not allowed to leave until late at night. It was argued that this tactic actually caused violence, and punished many who had done nothing wrong. Similar criticisms were made when this tactic was used at the G20 protests in London last year.
Here is the contrast: – previously, almost all the arrests would have taken place at the scene, to remove trouble-makers from the fray, to de-escalate the situation, not afterwards, to “settle scores“. Now, everything has changed.
The combination of these two new tactics – containment and surveillance – has parallels with handling of large disturbances by Chinese authorities: – rather than attempt to make arrests at the scene, the police merely contain the disturbance to limit any damage; CCTV photography is used to identify individuals within the crowd, who are then arrested later, at their homes.
The use of CCTV in China, to identify protestors, dates from at least 1989 : –
[Box 3:] “Neutral” Technology at Tiananmen Square
Following the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, the Chinese authorities tortured and interrogated thousands of people in an attempt to identify the demonstration’s organizers. But even if the students and workers had resisted the terrors of the secret police, the hapless demonstrators stood little chance of anonymity. Stationed throughout Tiananmen Square is a network of UK manufactured surveillance cameras, designed to monitor traffic flows and regulate congestion. These cameras recorded everything that transpired in the months leading up to the tanks rolling into the square.
In the days that followed, these images were repeatedly broadcast over Chinese state television. Virtually all the transgressors were identified in this way. Siemens Plessey, which manufactured and exported the cameras, and the World Bank, who paid for their installation, claim they never had any idea that their “technologically neutral” equipment would be used in this way. However, in 1995 the World Bank authorized the funds to set up the same traffic flow system in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region. Lhasa is not, as yet, known for having problems with traffic congestion; besides, the area in which the traffic flow system is in operation is solely for pedestrians. (56)
Is it valid to make a comparison between Britain and China? After all, the people arrested in Britain allegedly were involved in violent disorder and British government is not going to torture them.