Page last updated at 13:41 GMT, Wednesday, 28 April 2010 14:41 UK

Do CCTV and the DNA database make us safer?

Daniel Sandford
By Daniel Sandford
Home affairs correspondent, BBC News

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Throughout the election campaign the BBC's expert team of journalists is examining the key claims made by politicians and assessing what their policies and promises mean to you.

Welcome to Reality Check. Today I'm scrutinising Labour's claims that Conservative policies on CCTV and DNA would be bad for public safety.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson has said the Conservative Party is "seeking to restrict the police's ability" to solve crimes.

He says they would do this by taking DNA profiles off the database as well as through their opposition to greater use of CCTV on the basis that it is "all part of a surveillance society".

But how fair are his claims?

CCTV 'valuable tool'

Well certainly Conservative leader David Cameron has spoken about wanting to sweep away the "whole rotten edifice" of "Labour's surveillance state" (in his conference speech of 2009), but he is not on the record criticising the use of CCTV.

The Home Secretary Alan Johnson and Communities Secretary John Denham defend the use of CCTV

The Conservative Party has now said that it supports CCTV which is a "valuable tool in the fight against crime". However it also says that 80% of cameras don't provide clear enough evidence for prosecutions because of their poor image quality.

What neither party has addressed is the effectiveness or not of CCTV in reducing crime.

A Home Office study in 2005 found little evidence that CCTV does reduce crime and not much evidence that it made the public feel safer.

But that does not necessarily mean it is a waste of time. It has been successfully used time and again to catch criminals who might not otherwise have been caught.

So no, the Conservative Party is not planning to reduce the number of CCTV cameras in Britain, and the police will welcome that.

Their concerns about the need to upgrade cameras so that more of the footage is suitable as evidence in criminal trials are broadly accepted by the police.

Crime-fighting v civil liberties

On DNA there is a real difference between the parties and it is hard to argue with Labour's claim that the Conservative proposal will restrict the police's ability to fight crime.

But this is all about a balance between crime-fighting and civil liberties - something the Conservative Party feels very strongly about.

CCTV statistics promo image

Labour wants to go on keeping (for a limited time) the DNA profiles of people arrested on suspicion of a crime, even if they are not eventually convicted.

This has widespread police support. It irritates the police that such people are described as "innocent", even though they are innocent in the eyes of the law. But detectives say some of them will eventually turn out to be repeat offenders so keeping their DNA profiles will help catch them in the future.

In contrast, the Conservatives say that people who have been cleared should not stay on the database. They accept that some crimes might go unsolved as a result, but say the rights of innocent people outweigh that.

They say they have much more important proposals for improving the DNA database. Their priority is to get the profiles of more convicted offenders onto the database.

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There are thousands of people who are or have been in prison, who were convicted of crimes before the database was fully up and running and whose profiles are not stored.

The weakness in this Tory proposal is that the Crime and Security Act 2010 , which has just come into force, already gives police the power to take samples from people previously convicted of serious crimes.

The Conservatives say they would extend the list of crimes covered by the Act, but it has rather taken the sting out of their proposals.

So for those voters who are less concerned about the civil liberties implications of keeping DNA profiles of people who have never been convicted of an offence, Labour might score points against the Conservatives on DNA, if not on CCTV.


A selection of your comments are below.

CCTV does not make for a more secure society in that they do not stop crimes from occurring - merely record it and even then only if they are pointing in the right direction at the time. What they DO well however is feed a lot of information about peoples private lives and movements into often privately run companies. Who watches the watchers? And why do they have to watch public spaces in the 1st place?? Once you have been recorded onto their tapes what guarantees do you have of data security, when you don't know you're even on there in the first place??
Philip, Edinburgh

Why is there no mention of "false positives"? The more information you collect the more often someone will be identified as a suspect purely because they bear a similarity to the person on CCTV, or happened to have been in contact with an item or person connected to the crime and left DNA there. Enough people have been wrongly convicted due to unfortunate coincidence, and the level of current use of CCTV and DNA and the treatment of these as very high standard proof of guilt means this is much more likely.
Peter, Sheffield

I think the Ipswich murders as dramatised on BBC over the last few days demonstrates the need for retaining DNA records. That murderer may never have been caught had his DNA not been on file for a lesser crime years before. If you've nothing to hide, why mind?
Claire, Congleton

I think the DNA database is crucial. Through the advances in technology many criminals would have carried on offending without this. The recent 5 murders in Ipswich prove how vital the DNA database is. Without this man's DNA being on the system he would have gone on to re-offend.
Kelly, Eastleigh

For Alan Johnson to claim that keeping the DNA of 'innocent' people will reduce crime, is specious and ultimately shameful. This is Great Britain in 2010, not Leningrad in 1942. The basic principle here is that society has no right to know details about anybody, save that which are willingly given such as DVLA and Passport details, if no crime has been committed. Innocent until proven guilty? Why not enforce a compulsory DNA database if Alan Johnson is so happy to drop any shred of civil and moral liberty.
Grey, Sheffield

CCTV is a form of adding to evidence in a case after the event. DNA again is a great in the fight against crime but yet again after the event. The question is do we want to make solving crime easy at the expense of preventing it in the first place?
Carl, Birmingham

I feel far more violated than safe.
Jon, Stirling

CCTV doesn't prevent crime - it either moves it somewhere else or identifies (sometimes) the person committing the crime. I'd much rather have police presence PREVENT a crime in the first place than rely on CCTV to identify someone who committed a crime against me.
D Gill, Oban

CCTV only records crime, it does not prevent it happening. Don't believe anyone who tries to tell you otherwise. Be very frightened of a burgeoning DNA database. It is but the thin end of the wedge. Be even more frightened as to the security of such data, what else it is being used for, and who has access to it.
William, Manchester

I do support the use of CCTV and the DNA database as tools in helping to make Britain safer; neither are hidden tools. In the past, people tended to live in smaller communities and carried out their own 'surveillance' of each other and of behaviour patterns. Today, the environments in which we live are much more complex, fast changing and with shifting populations. We now need to be able to access sophisticated technology such as CCTV and the DNA database to assist in efforts to improve the quality of life within communities by monitoring and hopefully reducing the levels of antisocial or criminal behaviour; also accurately identifying offenders through DNA profiling.
Margaret, Richmond upon Thames



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