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Britain puts surveillance cameras in Muslim areas

world Updated: Jun 05, 2010 20:36 IST

Britain's anti-terrorism authority has installed hundreds of surveillance cameras in two Muslim-dominated areas to track people's movements and check crime.

About 150 automatic numberplate recognition (ANPR) cameras have been installed in Birmingham's two areas - Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook - to help counterterrorism police tackle anti-social behaviour, vehicles and drug related crimes.

Police sources said the initiative, codenamed Project Champion, is the first of its kind in Britain that seeks to monitor a population seen as "at risk" of extremism.

The project has principally been sold to locals but the cameras have been paid for by a 3-million-pound grant from the Terrorism and Allied Matters Fund, which is administered by the Association of Chief Police Officers.

The two predominantly Muslim suburbs will be covered by three times more ANPR cameras than are used to monitor the entire city centre. They include about 40 "covert" cameras which will be concealed from public view, The Guardian reported.

The criteria for TAM funds state clearly that the police must prove that a project will "deter or prevent terrorism or help to prosecute those responsible".

However, officials maintain the cameras will prove useful for tackling a whole range crime.

The funding arrangement was not made clear to the handful of councillors who were briefed that the cameras would appear in their area. Instead, they were told only that the money had come from the Home Office.

"I raised my concern then: Is this really about spying?" said Salma Yaqoob, a member of the Respect Party and councillor for Sparkbrook.

The Safer Birmingham Partnership, a joint initiative between police and the local authority which will run the cameras, expressed "regret" there had not been fuller consultation.

Jackie Russell, the director of the partnership, said: "Just because the funding has an interest in counterterrorism doesn't mean that for us, that is our focus. For us, it is about community safety".

Steve Jolly, a local activist campaigning against the installation of cameras, called on the deputy prime minister to intervene.

"Nick Clegg has made a real point of emphatically drawing attention to the surveillance society and promising to stop unnecessary infringements of privacy," he said.