Defeat of the Champion: a gateway to discuss communities and cameras

West Midlands Human Rights Film Festival 2011 featuring Article 12 and Defeat of a Champion

Every now and then I get the opportunity to mix it up with an opinion and the showing of two films at the Human Rights Film Festival in Birmingham last night was one such opportunity.

As a stand in for Tom Reeve, editor of SecurityNewsDesk.com, it was a pleasure to attend the screening of two security industry challenging films .

The first film was “Article 12”, directed by Juan Manuel Biaiñ and featuring Noam Chomsky, Simon Davies, Brian Eno, A.C. Grayling and Amy Goodman.

Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

West Midlands Human Rights Film Festival 2011 featuring Article 12 and Defeat of a Champion

Review: West Midlands Human Rights Film Festival 2011 featuring Article 12 and Defeat of a Champion

Some of our readers may recall IFSEC two years ago, when I was busy introducing an Argentinean producer to those in our industry who develop new technology and apply it to cameras and other system elements.

Juan then applied that research and more to come up with this 75-minute documentary that’s been doing well at various film festivals including the Locarno Film Festival, Leeds Film Festival, Elevate Festival (Austria), London International Documentary Festival and Fantasia Film Festival (Montreal).

“Article 12” explores the surveillance society globally and questions whether our human rights are being breached on a daily basis by intelligent camera systems and personal profiling. He argues that our privacy is being eroded by our relationship with systems which manage shopping, banking, mobile phones, travel and GPS… and of course CCTV.

It was interesting seeing how others view what we do and just how threatening some people find it.

In the hot seat

After watching “Article 12”, I stepped out of the theatre to be asked if I would be staying to view “Defeat of the Champion”, a short film produced by Ken Fero and Tariq Mehmoodand.

I gave a clear yes and was immediately asked if I could be the ‘pro CCTV contributor’ on the panel.  I took a look at the 150-strong audience and thought surely I’m not completely alone… but I was. The panel was made up of Ken, Tariq, anti-CCTV activist Steve Jolly and a representative of the NO CCTV campaign who remains convinced CCTV “doesn’t work”… and myself.

The film itself was, in the main, well balanced. Tom Reeve, editor of SecurityNewsDesk.com, made his big screen debut well, and it’s obvious the directors were looking to create a film to provoke debate rather than air their own opinions.

In all, it set the scene well for the panel discussion.

Project Champion was of course the name given to the installation of cameras in areas of Birmingham deemed to be hotspots by the Home Office Counter Terrorism Unit, with the system data being fed direct to London rather than local police.

The police, after much public pressure, have made it known that they approached it all wrong: no consultation with the community being deemed their biggest failing which has apparently undone years of work between community workers and West Midlands Police.

What was of particular interest to me is the split debate that followed: some participants just taking an opportunity to score one against the local constabulary and further fuelling local paranoia while others applied common sense, recognising that the police made the move in the first place for a reason.

There have been arrests as recently as last week under the Terrorism Act in the areas where the cameras had been sited and, I believe, a total of eleven in the last three-and-a-half years, so it’s hardly an area that can claim it’s being singled out by the police. But I do appreciate how hard it must be to be an upstanding community member when you feel you’re being fenced in.

The recent arrests led many to suggest that the cameras where obviously unnecessary in the first place – heaven forbid I were to raise the suggestion that perhaps the arrests would have come sooner if the system had been left operational.

I couldn’t help but think that the way this community has been left feeling isn’t dissimilar to how I would feel if my neighbourhood was ring fenced as Spark Hill and Mosley were, but I also noted that for many in the room, there was no compromise: they believe the police don’t care and would label every Muslim a terrorist which, of course, is simply untrue.

What was missing from the debate was an appreciation of the scope of the problem that we face. There are hotspots and they need more than managing – they need dealing with and, that done, life for all residents would return to normal.

I’m afraid as long as they continue to make arrests in certain areas I would want to see more systems being deployed.

I do, however, think there is a need for compromise and conversation. Of course, the police can’t share all of their activities in the counter terrorism arena with a community but they can help people understand what gain there is from a system of the type the Olive Group installed in Birmingham.

It’s a combination of cameras and conversations as well as human vigilance that will help the residents in the areas affected by project Champion return to a way of life that meets their community and security needs.

And finally, lest we forget Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it states:

“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”

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