The Digital Age
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In the immediate aftermath of the 7/7 London terrorist explosions, and the attempted bombings a fortnight later, the police embarked on a massive intelligence gathering exercise. Their task was significantly aided by the presence of CCTV cameras covering the streets, Tube stations and buses targeted in the attacks, as well as surveillance systems covering the rest of the transport network in the capital and surrounding counties.
The pictures subsequently produced, such as those taken at Luton rail station, showed clear, identifiable images of the perpetrators and underlined the value of this monitoring method. However, the operating costs and logistics involved in surveying so much activity means that the CCTV operators of these systems cannot be aware of all the potential crime-related activity occurring.
Their skills and training are deployed to best effect in real-time, to address and help prevent a variety of events that may otherwise result in security or safety problems. Nevertheless, finite resources are available to devote to this task, and otherwise normal behaviour such as criminals travelling to the scene of a crime cannot realistically be detected in these circumstances anyway.
This is where a valuable back-up comes into play, in the form of accessible video recordings that can later be evidentially linked to an incident.
Commercial property owners and managers deal with a similar scenario. Depending on the nature and scale of the business involved, a number of different security arrangements exist. Larger sites often have their own surveillance cameras, monitored by security guards as part of an integrated protection system. Smaller facilities may prefer to employ external security providers to monitor their buildings out-of-hours. Some local authorities, for instance, keep watch on industrial estates and business parks etc using the staff available in their control room.
Whatever the chosen method, the quality of recordings is one of the key operational issues that needs to be safeguarded. To prove this point, we only have to think back to the poor state of original camera pictures showing toddler Jamie Bulger and his abductors at a Merseyside shopping centre in 1993. These had to be subsequently enhanced by police technical experts before they could be effectively used. Since then, of course, analogue VCR tape has been increasingly superseded by the prolific uptake of digital recording and this in turn has led to a pressing need for definitive guidance where digital video images are being used as evidence in the criminal justice system.
The rapid change towards digital video recording technology first started in the late 1990s and in recent years has accelerated as a result of factors such as falling prices, improved reliability and a range of operational advantages. For example, compared with tape recorders, digital alternatives provide ease of use and the ability to search for specific recorded data quickly.
But the digital age also ushers in a number of important issues facing those specifying, selecting, installing and operating DVR equipment intended to produce CCTV pictures for use as evidence in court. A number of key questions have been raised about the admissibility of digital video evidence and the methods used to review and extract such evidence.
The main problem has been the lack of an independent guide that the police, criminal justice system, end-users, insurers and installers could refer to – a situation addressed by the forthcoming publication from the Home Office of a code of practice covering digital recording systems intended to export images for use as evidence.
The intention behind the code is to provide an independent benchmark for this technology, allowing it to be used to its maximum potential with the same confidence that there is in VHS tape from a traditional VCR.