Who Is Watching The Watchers?

I have to admit that I’ve missed something.  Unforgivable I know, but I promise to try harder in future

What is it that I have missed, I hear you ask?  Is it important?  Do we need to know about it?

Yes it is important in my humble opinion.  Do you need to know about it?  Yes, I think you do.

What is it?  It is this

In April last year a company called G4S acquired ownership of a surveillance and investigations company called The Cotswold Group.  The Cotswold Group, who I must confess I had never heard of before, claimed to be specialists in surveillance, fraud analytics, intelligence and investigations services.

Quoting from Brian Sims’ article in Info 4Security, he says;

The acquisition will significantly strengthen the strategic development of G4S’ covert surveillance and investigations capability, allowing the organisation to embed increased intelligence offerings into its service portfolio and introduce these offerings as part of its existing solutions-based contracts.

Adding to similar services offered in the US, Middle East and Asia Pacific, with this acquisition G4S will become the global leader in the investigation of insurance fraud (which is estimated to cost in excess of $200 billion each year.

He then continues;

The buy-out of The Cotswold Group also:

  • provides G4S with an intelligence-based fraud investigation services platform through which it can address significant revenue protection opportunities in the UK via its Utility Services business
  • allows G4S to pursue major opportunities within UK central and local Government, such as benefit fraud investigation
  • enhances G4S’ insurance claims surveillance, fraud mitigation and investigative services capabilities
  • increases G4S’ expertise and track record in corporate investigative services (such as absence management, internal fraud, staff vetting and staff risk assessment)

The point that I have highlighted in red is the one that concerns me.  This acquisition has already added to G4S’ skillset for taking over front-line roles.  Surveillance has to be a front-line role surely. There is clearly an intent and potential for G4S to bid for a privatised version of surveillance in the public sector.

G4S have already hit the headlines once this year with their use of video surveillance in tracking down alleged insurance fraudsters.  Now I have no sympathy with anyone who defrauds any insurance company, or anybody else for that matter, but the surveillance video footage was not restricted to ‘A Public Place’.  It was found to contain footage clearly shot within the family home and showed the subject sat on the sofa in her lounge.  But G4S says it has done nothing wrong and was merely pursuing normal procedures – raising the prospect of thousands more people being subjected to the same intrusive tactics.

Done nothing wrong?  Well I know what would have happened to me if I’d videoed someone in their home without their permission and without the appropriate Authority.

This item here outlines the concerns raised by the Surveillance Commissioner about the failings of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) and the fact that the private surveillance industry is unregulated.  For the benefit of non-police persons, if a Police Officer wanted to conduct some low-level surveillance, such as taking a photograph of a suspect etc, in a street he/she would need to obtain prior authority from an Inspector or above.  If this has changed I’m sure someone will put me right.  From those humble beginnings authority levels increase dependent upon the nature of the surveillance and/or intrusion.  Private security/surveillance companies currently don’t have to have any of this, so what G4S said is strictly speaking correct, but is it morally right?  Personally I think that ANYONE conducting directed surveillance should all be singing from the same hymn book and adhering to the same Codes of Practice.  Is that unreasonable?

All I know is that’s it’s one more small area of the public sector that G4S, and others, are succeeding in getting in to.  Their track record with security guards hasn’t been very good this year, should we really trust them with covert surveillance?

Be afraid, be very afraid! (or at least be cautious)


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