When the cameras appeared above the rooftops in the Birmingham suburbs, some people realised they were mostly automatic number plate reading (ANPR) cameras, used to track drivers’ movements. Protesters sprayed the camera posts with messages such as “1984 Big Brother” and “You are now entering a police state.”
Those suspicious enough to ask what the cameras were for were given the impression they were part of a Home Office initiative to tackle vehicle crime on the Stratford Road corridor, an arterial route into the city.
For the vast majority of people on the bustling streets of Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook, two of the city’s predominantly Muslim areas, the cameras were inconspicuous, melting into pavements filled with fruit stalls and fabric shops.
But an investigation by the Guardian has established that the surveillance cameras are the first of a kind in the UK. While they may be used for ordinary crime fighting, they were put up to monitor extremists that the police and MI5 know to be living among the city’s Muslim population.
The cameras appeared at 81 sites without consultation, after being requested by West Midlands police counterterrorism unit more than two years ago. They include around 150 ANPR cameras, 40 of which have been classified as “covert”, and are thought to be concealed in walls and trees by the side of the road.
See also Guardian, 4 June 2010