Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Cameras will cover the Gensing and Central St Leonards areas

Concerns raised over proposed AI surveillance system

A surveillance system with the capacity for facial recognition is due to be installed in Central St Leonards, raising questions over whether more adequate public consultation should have been carried out. Emma Harwood reports.

It will be owned and operated by the Business Crime Reduction Partnership (BCRP), a neighbourhood watch scheme for businesses led by representatives of the council, police and Business Improvement District (Love Hastings).

It is being paid for from the Home Office Safer Streets Fund, which awarded Hastings Borough Council £450,000 to tackle burglary and theft through measures such as improved street lighting and CCTV last summer, and the cash needs to be spent by the end of this financial year.

But some residents and business owners have written to MP Sally-Ann Hart and Police Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne, who bid for the funding, asking for a  rethink amidst concern it might infringe on privacy, deter visitors or unnecessarily  target innocent and vulnerable people.

The network video recorder (NVR) system will provide 24-hour surveillance and security lighting in residential and commercial areas, with 37 high definition digital video cameras, but it is embedded with “industry-leading deep-learning algorithms,” including facial recognition technology with the ability to identify gender or ethnicity.

Moreover, it is manufactured by Hikvision, a Chinese security firm whose technology is helping to establish an oppressive surveillance state in the Xinjiang region of China, where the Uighur ethnic minorities have been held in secret internment camps.

“Facial recognition will not be used”

The BCRP says “it will not be linked to any local or national databases for data matching and facial recognition will only be used to allow the system to differentiate an actual human face from anything else moving in the field of view. It will not have the ability to match that face to a human identity.

“Each camera will have the ability to block out sections of the field of view to protect domestic privacy and domestic locations. An example of this would be blocking out the windows of private domestic residents.”

However, it will use artificial intelligence to allow “automated notification of people loitering in specific areas, unusual behaviour or vehicle movements.”

“A lack of engagement and transparency”

Sam Kinch, involved with community engagement on the project, said: “No formal public consultation has taken place and they’re moving to get the hardware on Friday (12 February), so no consultation will take place.

“They say they won’t be using that functionality but what would they need to do, if at a later stage they wanted to start using it – they wouldn’t need to notify the public, presumably, because the hardware is already installed. You can get networked video recording systems which don’t have that functionality, why would you buy it if you don’t intend to use it?”


John Bownas, of the BCRP, said businesses and residents had been surveyed last October and that the ‘vast majority’ were in favour of improved CCTV and that the Hikvision system was an effective and secure one used in high streets around the country.

“If we downgraded the system to one which doesn’t use facial recognition it wouldn’t perform other functions either, so then we’re not getting value for money”.

Mr Bownas said as far as he understood there is no statutory obligation to carry out a formal public consultation before installing CCTV.

No single piece of legislation regulating CCTV surveillance

Regulation of CCTV surveillance is covered by a range of different acts including the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, the General Data Protection Regulation, the Data Protection Act 2018, the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Private organisations are expected to follow a code of practice set out by the Information Commissioner’s Office. Meanwhile, the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice 2013 gives guidance to local authorities and police. A further code of practice on live facial recognition technology was published in December 2020, in response to a landmark court ruling in August that South Wales Police Force had breached privacy and equality laws in using the technology.

Is CCTV the best way to prevent acquisitive crime?

In St Leonards, some business owners question whether a high tech CCTV system is the best use of the funding. Seafront cafe Goat Ledge was broken into several weeks ago but while footage of suspects was captured on existing CCTV, no one has yet been arrested. “We had dummy cameras and ‘Smile you’re on CCTV’ signs up for many years, and plenty of criminal incidents still took place”, said co-owner Will Stevens.

“When consulted about the new system, we felt uneasy about footage of our business premises being channelled to an undisclosed, potentially unaccountable body. If Home Office money is being put forward to improve St Leonards, there are lots of projects that would, in my opinion, be more constructive and appropriate to a town like this than state-of-the-art facial recognition technology.

“And I’m sure that if the proposed subjects of this surveillance, the community, were consulted, they too would also have plenty of good ideas”.

A spokesperson for PCC Katy Bourne said the decision over how to spend the funding was up to Hastings Borough Council and the Business Crime Reduction Partnership.

Learn more about the Hastings Business Crime Reduction Partnership.
Read the CCTV code of practice by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Good practice and guidance for Police by the Surveillance Camera Commissioner’s Office.

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Posted 13:02 Saturday, Feb 13, 2021 In: Local News


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  1. Kendal

    this is a slippery slope. you cannot believe a person who says face recognition will not be used but can be implemented later, then says there is no obligation to consult the public on CCTV installation.

    once it is installed here, there is nothing stopping it happening elsewhere

    anyone with criminal intent would be laughing at this right now and just go out and invest in a balaclava – what’s more criminal is the sheer waste of money and resources that could be better spent

    Comment by Kendal — Thursday, Feb 18, 2021 @ 13:42

  2. Captain Reality

    I totally agree with you Erica, the new CCTV would be considered successful if they were caught, having been backed up by police presence and action.
    Maybe it will work, maybe not… depends on the authorities involved, and neighbours willing to be involved in making a better community, etc
    The new CCTV won’t be a fix all, maybe just a deterrent, who knows unless its tried out?

    Comment by Captain Reality — Wednesday, Feb 17, 2021 @ 22:46

  3. Erica Smith

    When I moved to St Leonards from Hastings nearly 11 years ago, the street I moved to had the highest incidence of crime in the area. In all my time here I have walked up and down streets which are considered to be crime-ridden at all times of day and night, and (thankfully) I have never had any need to call the police.
    But when my bicycle was stolen on the seafront, and when my office was ransacked and set on fire, there was no recorded CCTV footage to help find the perpetrators. Maybe a better CCTV system would have helped solve these crimes, but I am not convinced that CCTV reduces crime. It certainly won’t help unless there are enough police to follow up the footage. Having visible police and community safety officers working in a town centre, and encouraging neighbours to talk to each other and work together is a much better way of building a safer community.
    IF these new CCTV cameras are installed, I’d love to hear back from Captain Reality to see if the drug-dealers and dog foulers and fly-tippers are all caught and banged to rights.

    Comment by Erica Smith — Wednesday, Feb 17, 2021 @ 20:59

  4. Captain Reality

    Firstly, as a resident right in the centre of the area proposed, a deterrent based CCTV system is long over due in Central St Leonards, some people just cannot behave and respect others here.
    Being a resident in one of the ‘worst’ streets, it can’t come quick enough, and in time for the lifting of the lockdown when all the trouble starts ramping up again.
    Yes, when I look out of the window I will probably be looking directly at one of the cameras, having looked at the red dots on the map, but that will hopefully then stop the rampant drug dealing that happens on our street, and the associated problems that come with it.
    Hopefully it’ll also stop the cars and vans turning up to dump they’re building rubbish in our communal bins.
    And maybe stop the people with dogs who don’t pick up they’re crap, to start picking up the crap, nobody likes to step out they’re front door straight into a turd.
    The above is also without mentioning the smashed shop windows, syringe needles, bins tipped out in to the road, antisocial behaviour, fights…its a long list.
    Nobody tells you this about the area before you move here, and after 4 years, the problems ain’t stopping, so I welcome the CCTV.
    As for the people who are up in arms scaremongering about AI Chinese big brother camera company, either they live in one of the nice parts of St Lennys unaffected, or don’t live/work in the immediate area, so again not affected.
    Please, have a thought for the people and business’s that are directly affected by the troubles above.
    I have spoken to council representatives and the police in my time here, and they all said the same thing…without good CCTV cameras, offenders are hard to catch and prosecute.
    And if you haven’t done anything wrong, what’s the problem with a person or building being on camera, it’s the 21st century, your being recorded anyway like it or not, know it or not.
    No doubt the keyboard lynch mob will along in a minute to take me away…Got to run thanks…

    Comment by Captain Reality — Monday, Feb 15, 2021 @ 22:10

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