Smile, your on CCTV – and fined!

A little while ago, I was moved to write about Automated Guilty Verdicts, and was basically suggesting that there seemed to be an increasing dependence on cameras to be Judge, Jury, and Executioner.

This trend is continuing, and STV’s Tonight programme, due to be broadcast on Friday, March 28, 2008, features the next incarnation of this method of acquiring convictions against ‘Soft Targets’. The programme looks at the introduction next week of regulations which mean that councils will be able to issue parking tickets based solely on CCTV evidence. Jonathan Maitland meets the parking rebels who say the new laws will lead to innocent drivers being falsely accused of crimes they have not committed.

We’ll have to see the programme to understand the full implications, and the concerns being raised by the so-called ‘Parking Rebels’, however there is little doubt that the trivialisation of the process that leads to the issuing of a fine, by degrading the legal system to allow it to be issued solely on CCTV is a matter for concern to all.

While there’s no argument regarding the use of CCTV evidence to obtain a conviction, the crucial principle to date has been that the evidence it presents is reviewed in court, by those charged with deciding the verdict, and in the context of other evidence and circumstances. Viewing CCTV images that simply placed the accused at a scenes without further evidence to back up the context is highly suspect, and downright dangerous in terms of justice – but perhaps justice is not the ultimate aim, and like other camera systems, despite claims to the contrary, the real aim is just the usual filling of coffers.

You should be concerned about this, and a quick look at the many TV programmes that feature endless hours of CCTV content should be a warning that the quality of such imagery as evidence is often lacking, and subject to mis-interpretation without witnesses to back it up in context.

We have already seen private parking companies misuse photographic evidence (it may even have been the Tonight programme that revealed their dubious operating practices), where their operators would position themselves on roads/streets their companies were contracted to patrol, and take digital photographs of any vehicles that stopped on the road. They would then use those images to issue fines, with the threat of escalating charges if not paid immediately. The only trouble was that the operators were taking their ‘Evidence Photographs’ whenever a vehicle stopped, including the dropping of passengers, deliveries, or even just when the traffic stationary in the road. If your wheels stopped rotating, one of these operators would pop out of hiding, photographs the vehicle to catch the registration number, and trigger the issue of a fine. When challenged, the operators did point out that the streets carried signage to make it clear that fines would be issued to any vehicles that stopped, however, without stopping to get out and find the sign, and read the small print, driver’s had little chance of being aware of what was happening.

Will council CCTV parking fines be issued with similar relish?

Will this become Scotland’s ‘Top-Up’ for its declining Council Tax?

Will an operator be sitting at screen, noting the numbers (I presume they will not be using APNRS) of any vehicle not moving in the controlled area – without even having to be there and see why – and plugging them into the fine-issuing machine, confident that few will have the time or money available to challenge the charge?

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