Editor’s view: Changing terrorist threat can be met with CCTV surveillance

Despite the successes in 2011 against international terrorism, there’s a new wave building in 2012. That’s according to the director general of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

Professor Michael Clarke says that having decapitated al Qaeda several times in 2011, the world is faced with “self-radicalised” terrorists working alone. As we saw with the 7/7 bombings in London, individuals and small groups, working mostly below the intelligence radar, can inflict terrible damage.

Prof Clarke is clear about the diagnosis but less so about the treatment. Unlike the operation to kill bin Laden, you can’t deploy Blackhawk helicopters to find terrorists in your own neighbourhoods so what are we to do about the domestic threat? 

Video surveillance is one answer. Another is, of course, intelligence networks – ie, spying and human surveillance – but which is more palatable from a human rights perspective?

As an investigative tool, CCTV footage is arguably less intrusive than spying and, as we saw after 7/7 and 21/7, it will show you the who, the what, the when and the where. And by harnessing the power of the private sector, we could have blanket coverage of our towns and cities – a boon for investigators.

Let’s assume that the UK government and others around the world are listening to RUSI and recognise the changing nature of the threat. And then let’s hope they take appropriate steps to secure their citizens against the threat.

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