The Surveillance Consensus

AuthorLeon Hempel,Eric Töpfer
Published date01 March 2009
Date01 March 2009
Subject MatterArticles
The Surveillance Consensus
Reviewing the Politics of CCTV in Three European
Leon Hempel and Eric Töpfer
Center for Technology and Society, Technical University Berlin, Germany
This article is inspired by Haggerty and Ericson’s notion of the ‘surveillant
assemblage’, which draws on philosophical concepts of Deleuze and Guattari
in order to analyse the dynamics of contemporary increasingly extensive and
intensifying surveillance. The surveillant assemblage has a twofold character.
On the one hand it aims to increase visibility and on the other hand it works
invisibly, ‘beyond our normal range of perception’. The surveillant assemblage
offers a surveillance consensus. To disentangle this consensus this article focuses
particularly on CCTV as a technology that is still visible. We analyse three aspects
of the surveillance consensus, namely, correlating with the aesthetical concept
of consensus, what we call (after Luhmann) (1) the illusion of total inclusion,
which is hardened by (2) media arrangements and eventually by (3) regulation.
We will refer to these three aspects empirically along with examples from the
development of CCTV in the UK, France and Germany.
CCTV / France / Germany / Politics of Surveillance / UK.
Our cameras are here today providing your right to be seen and heard.
(Promotion at the Security and Prosperity Partnership summit in Montebello.
Quoted in Naomi Klein, The Guardian, 24 August 2007)
Volume 6 (2): 157–177: 1477-3708
DOI: 10.1177/1477370808100544
Copyright © 2009 European Society of
Criminology and SAGE Publications
Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC
158 European Journal of Criminology 6(2)
Yes it works! No it doesn’t!1
The year 2008 began with an astonishing report from a German newswire
delivering the latest story on surveillance: ‘British police admits sub stantial
weaknesses of CCTV’ (Stefan Krempl, heise online news, 19 January 2008).
Only a few months before, in October 2007, the Home Office and the
Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) had published a ‘National
CCTV Strategy’ (Gerrard et al. 2007) which raised some concerns about
the management and organization of the British CCTV infrastructure
but overall confirmed the usefulness of the technology as a crime fighting
tool. And yet the Deputy Chief Constable Graeme Gerrard, chairman of
the ACPO CCTV subcommittee and co-author of the ‘National Strategy’,
was admitting substantial weaknesses at a hearing in the House of Lords.
Had the police forces of the UK, the country that more than any other
has extensively installed CCTV in open streets to combat crime, suddenly
reverse their position? Or does Gerrard’s admission of CCTV’s weaknesses
simply indicate a new level of discussion? In fact, Gerrard acknowledged
first of all the issue of overstated expectations at the hearing in the House
of Lords Constitution Committee. His major concern went far beyond the
question of whether CCTV works or not, revealing the political dimension
of the issue of effectiveness:
Most of the pressure [for CCTV] comes from the public. … Some of them may get
disappointed … it doesn’t deter most crime. I think they [the people] are perhaps
misled in terms of the amount of crime that CCTV might prevent. (Quoted in Rosa
Prince, Telegraph, 19 January 2008)
Public pressure? Disappointment? Crime prevention? Misleading?
Gerrard certainly did not argue that CCTV was completely useless. He
pointed to failings of CCTV not in general but rather specifically with
regard to crime prevention. Since the London bombings of July 2005 this atti-
tude has been backed by public discourse about CCTV, which now places
less emphasis on crime prevention and more on the ability to prosecute
offenders on the basis of CCTV footage. It was just a matter of time before
this argument collapsed as well. Indeed, a few months after Gerrard’s state-
ment, Scotland Yard CCTV expert Mike Neville called CCTV an ‘utter
fiasco’, announcing that only 3 per cent of street robberies ‘had been solved
by using CCTV images’ as, among other reasons, 80 per cent of them is
of poor quality and thus useless (Telegraph, 6 May 2008). Regardless of
whether these reports were requests for further funding, a substantial dis-
crepancy has obviously opened up between what was promised by the
1 We borrow this phrase that indicates the ambivalent crime effects of CCTV from Ditton and
Short (1999).

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