Countering Terrorism Drives UK Rail Surveillance

11 November 2009 (Last Updated November 11th, 2009 18:30)

Countering terrorism on the UK rail network is no easy task. Ahead of Arena International's Counter Terrorism and Security event, Natalie Coomber speaks with Perpetuity Group director Martin Gill to find out how security can be deployed effectively.

Countering Terrorism Drives UK Rail Surveillance

More than four years ago a series of terror attacks on London's transport network shocked audiences around the world as the horrific events unfolded live on television. The images remain etched on those who saw the footage of the carnage that brought the London underground to a standstill.

The events of 7 July 2005 altered the approach to countering terror on the UK rail network forever and out of the wreckage came a new focus and investment on surveillance measures.

Ahead of Arena International's Counter Terrorism and Security event in London on 17 and 18 November, railway-technology.com's Natalie Coomber caught up with Perpetuity Group director and University of Leicester Professor Martin Gill to discuss the careful balances that must now be taken into consideration when countering terror and installing close-circuit surveillance on the UK's transport system.

Natalie Coomber: What are the main issues with installing surveillance measures across the UK rail network and in public spaces more generally?

Martin Gill: The main issue is the balance between the need to provide people with security and to protect people's civil liberties. Another is the relationship between the public police and private security, and the extent to which private security can be engaged to help the public police. Then there is the issue of [budget] cuts and what implications this may have on the security that is provided.

NC: How has the balance between the need to provide security and protect people's civil liberties changed over time?

"The main issue is the balance between the need to provide people with security and to protect people's civil liberties."

MG: I think one of the most important issues is that technology has got better and as a consequence it has become more intrusive. It is a question of balancing out all that the technology can do with the realisation that people do want to make sure their liberties are protected at the same time.

NC: Have there been any technologies in particular that have changed the nature of surveillance and concerned the public the most?

MG: I think the fact that people are watched in different ways is a matter of concern. CCTV can see in the dark, the resolution of the images is better and the cameras can pick out people from a long distance. I think there are a lot of issues around the issue of security that are making people feel that it is getting a bit "big brother" like.

NC: Do you think these issues are particularly prevalent on the UK transport network?

MG: Absolutely. I think there are certain contexts when people expect to be watched. Even when people are travelling, however, they want to understand why they are being watched and how the images will be used. These are the fundamental questions that I think are going to become more prevalent.

NC: Is there is enough interaction with the public to explain these things?

MG: I don't think there is much interaction with the public. Not all CCTV cameras are the same, they differ remarkably in what they can do and different technologies have got different capabilities.

The business of educating the public involves making sure people understand what cameras are for, what they can do, why there is a camera in a particular place; how can it be justified. These issues aren't easy to do in an education campaign but increasingly these sorts of questions are fundamental.

"Even when people are travelling, they want to understand why they are being watched and how the images will be used."

NC: On the transport network do you think technology is being used the right way – is there overkill with the system or possible gaps in coverage?

MG: No sector could claim that it has got it perfectly right, partly because most technology was installed [in the past] and has since greatly improved. The nature of the problems has changed and it is often difficult to counter that change with new technology that can often be expensive.

NC: After the 7 July attacks in London do you think the right strategies were taken to increase protection for rail users and has enough money been pumped into the sector?

MG: I think the crucial thing to remember is that it is not just about technology and it is not just about money.

It is about understanding what the problems are and responding to them. The threat from terrorism is very real and no one thing is going to stop it. It is a matter of really making sure everyone is aware, everyone is on their guard and making sure the technology that we have got is used to best effect.

Arena International's Counter Terrorism and Security event is taking place in London on 17 and 18 November. There is still space to register, for full details visit www.arena-international.com.