ALA cautions against $50 million pledge for more CCTV cameras

8th Oct 2012

The Australian Lawyers Alliance says that the pledge by Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, today, to spend $50 million for additional CCTV cameras around Australia to monitor people’s movements in response to Jill Meagher’s death, does not take account of privacy concerns and potential misuse of cameras to profile groups and individuals.

ALA spokesman and criminal barrister, Greg Barns, said the Jill Meagher tragedy had prompted police and governments, at various levels, to call for increased use of cameras to monitor people’s lives, but this came at a cost to civil liberties and potential human rights violations.

Mr Barns said the cameras were likely to be misused with innocent people and community groups likely to be unlawfully surveilled, on occasions, breaching privacy rights.

“Just last week the BBC reported a brewing backlash following the poorly considered installation of 825 cameras in 207 schools, including toilets and change rooms,” he said.

“A line definitely needs to be drawn in the sand as to where these cameras are installed and public accountability for authorities accessing footage without due cause.

“Such ‘reason for access’ provisions had been introduced into state-based police forces to ensure police officers did not abuse their abilities to surveil and this should also be standard practice with any footage viewed."

Mr Barns said there was also a false community perception that more crimes would be solved and fewer people would commit criminal acts, knowing that the cameras existed, but global facts did not support this assumption with one UK study showing that for every 1000 additional cameras installed only one assisted in the solving a crime.

“This means the $50 million Tony Abbott plans to spend could be better consumed in programs designed to keep people out of the criminal justice system for minor offences where they would mix with more violent career criminals.

“The ALA shares every Victorian’s horror over the death of Jill Meagher, but it is important to ensure we don’t create a dangerous big brother state, where people access footage for reasons that are not in the public interest.”

Tags: Human rights Victoria Criminal justice