Watching Downtown Tokyo

So, I’m back in Tokyo until next April, revisiting the areas which I examined in 2005-6, where surveillance cameras have been installed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, and the wards where I did case-study research on community safety development in 2009 (see my posts in this blog from July to September 2009).

One initial impression is that the progress of video surveillance has not perhaps been as rapid as I would have thought, but it may be that this impression is mistaken. Certainly, the numbers of cameras deployed by the TMP have not increased rapidly. While I looked initially at Shinjuku’s Kabukicho district, where cameras were first introduced in 2002 and Shibuya and Ikebukuro (2004), they were also introduced in Ueno (2006) and Roppongi (2007). The numbers of cameras in these areas and the technologies in use have not changed greatly since their introduction: Kabukicho has 55; Shibuya, 20;  Ikebukuro, 49; Ueno, 12; and Roppongi, 44. The cameras are all in areas associated with the night economy – pink or ‘red line areas’, or what in the UK would be called ‘red light districts’ or places strongly associated with gang-related nightlife activities.

From then there was a gap and nothing happened until this year, when the TMP introduced a small number of cameras into an area they seem to have previously overlooked: the so-called ‘Kabukicho of the East’ – it’s even referred to in this way by tourist guides – Kinshicho in Sumida ward, still very much a rough, working class area. Kinshicho is apparently known for two things: gambling (on horse-racing – it’s not coincidentally the HQ of  the Japan Racing Association) and ‘gaijin bars’ (or hostess bars staffed by foreign hostesses). But, if one examines the crime maps produced by the TMP, Kinshicho is not a particularly high crime area especially compared to its western counterpart, Kabukicho, and there are other areas of dubious repute in Tokyo, so what’s behind this particular move at this time?

CCTV cameras at the Tokyo Sky Tree Tower (Hirotaka Kawakami)

This is simply speculation on my part, and I will be talking to police and others about this in the next few months, but Sumida ward is gentrifying. In 2006, the massive new Olinas shopping complex was built in the Kinshicho area, and then in 2012, the Tokyo Sky Tree Tower, the new communications tower for Tokyo, complete with associated shopping and entertainment complex, landed in Oshiage, just to the north. Shitamachi (literally ‘low city’ – or downtown) areas have become fashionable now and not just among tourists. But this nostalgic search for an older, ‘authentic’ Tokyo, usually that of the post-WW2 period, is limited to safe images of craftsmen, small shops, stand-up bars, street food, hard-work and propriety. Frankly, Kinshicho seems to be seen as an embarrassing throwback to a shadow image of the ‘bad old days’ of the shitamachi of gangs, gambling and the sex trade, that the authorities at least do not want associated with the new and more pleasant presentation they are seeking to create.

But the TMP cameras are only a small part of the story of public space video surveillance in Tokyo, and if one sticks to the police numbers, one would get a very misleading impression. For example, the Sky Tree Tower has been the focus of a major introduction of video surveillance through the main mechanism for public space surveillance in Tokyo, the 2003 Anzen Anshin Machizukuri Jourei (Community Safety Ordinance). This empowers neighbourhood and shopkeepers’ associations to introduce camera systems with support from ward governments and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. In Oshiage, a very large and locally controversial 77 camera-system was introduced from 2012, with most of the cameras (66) directly around the Sky Tree. Kinshicho also has its TMP cameras supplemented by an even larger number of non-TMP cameras – the Asahi article above claims 47 but it’s unclear whether that includes the TMP cameras or not.

The progress of community safety development is the main focus of my research here this time, so I’ll be visiting Oshiage and Kinshicho in the near future. And I’ll be writing much more about this method of crime control through development planning, as it will no doubt be a key feature of how preparations for the 2020 Olympics are made.

$100 to anyone who can find a ‘privacy-compliant camera’ in Canada

Actually, the headline (from the Toronto Metro free paper) is a little misleading as what my friend and colleague Andrew Clement is actually betting on here is that no-one can find a video surveillance system in Canada that is fully compliant with Canadian privacy law. Which of course may of may not be the same as ‘privacy’ in any other terms. But it’s an interesting challenge – that is largely to do with signage. Prof Clement and his team at the iSchool at UofT have been monitoring the way in which video surveillance systems in Canada are signed for quite some time. As their website, (which is also where you can try to claim your $100…) says

“Signs should at a minimum clearly tell you:

  • who is operating the camera
  • who you can contact if you have questions
  • the purpose(s) of the surveillance”

The signs should also in themselves be clearly visible, not hidden away somewhere. There’s more detailed information about requirments here.

So, who’s going to take up this bet?

(Thanks to Matthias Vermeulen for the story and Aaron Martin for noticing the difference between privacy and privacy law.)

UK’s secret national flying camera strategy

If there was any doubt left, it seems the British government has finally given up all pretense of trying to balance civil liberties and security. A plan has been revealed by The Guardian newspaper for a national strategy for surveillance by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). And we are not just talking the micro-helicopter UAVs used by many UK police forces already, but 22m-long airships, the G22, which can stay airborne for many hours. The military drones will require special certification for civilian use.

And of course, these devices are supposed to be in place for the 2012 Olympics, but even in the documentation secured under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA), it is made very clear that the drones will be used for a multiplicity of ‘routine’ operations, including from orders and fisheries activity to conventional policing and even “[detecting] theft from cash machines, preventing theft of tractors and monitoring antisocial driving… event security and covert urban surveillance” as well as all the kinds of activities that the already controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) covers, including “fly-posting, fly-tipping, abandoned vehicles, abnormal loads, waste management”.

If this wasn’t bad enough, the whole thing has been developed in secret with the British governments favourite arms manufacturer, BAe Sytems, is projected to run as a public-private partnership due to the massive expense, and it has even been suggested that the surveillance data could be sold to private companies, according to The Guardian.

And the ‘selling’ of this to the public has already begun. Some suggestions of the use of high-flying drones had been made by Kent police, who had claimed it would be to “monitor shipping and detect immigrants crossing from France”. However, as The Guardian goes on to show this was a ruse which was part of long-term PR strategy to divert attention away from civil liberties issues. One 2007 document apparently states, “There is potential for these [maritime] uses to be projected as a ‘good news’ story to the public rather than more ‘big brother’.”

It’s really hard to say anything polite about these plans, the way they have been developed, and the complete lack of interest in or concern for the British public’s very real and growing fear of a surveillance state in the UK.

A footnote: almost as soon as this news was revealed, the British government raised the terrorist threat level to ‘severe’, without providing any indication that was any specific threat. Now, this may be entirely coincidental (and there are a couple of high-level meetings on Yemen and Afghanistan strategy in London next week), but if the threat level was much higher, the British public might suddenly be more amenable to the introduction of something to protect them from this ‘severe’ threat, like, say, flying drone cameras, don’t you think?

Community Safety in Suginami

Following our meeting with the Mayor the other day, we went back to Suginami-ku to talk to the community safety people, who are part of the Disaster Management section. Suginami is interesting because, as far back as 2004, it was the first Local Authority in Japan to introduce a special bohan kamera jourei (security camera ordinance) which is based in part at least on principles of data protection and privacy. And until neighbouring Setegaya-ku introduced their own ordinance last year, they were, so far as I know, the only such authority. The ordinance followed public consultation which showed that although people generally thought CCTV was effective (95%), a significant minority of 34% were concerned about privacy, and 72% thought that regulation was needed. These figures seem to be significantly more in favour of privacy and regulation of CCTV than the nationwide survey done by Hino Kimihiro, however he asked different questions leading to answers that are not directly comparable.

Suginami is one of the areas of Tokyo that has the other kind of CCTV system introduced by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police after 2002, help points where people press a button if they feel in danger and speak to someone from the police. The help points have both CCTV camera and an alarm / red flashing light if the caller says it is an emergency.

However the Suginami community safety officers said that these cameras have not proved very effective and in fact they cause a lot of problems, because children tend to press the button for fun, and run away – meaning that there are many false alarms.

Suginami has some of the same kind of array of ‘blue-light’ volunteer patrols as Arakawa-ku. In Suginami, there is a fleet of mini-patoka (mini patrol cars) and motorbikes, used by 15 retired police officers. These are mainly about visibility leading to deterrence and increased community confidence, as the volunteers ex-officers have no special powers nor do they carry side-arms or handcuffs or any other conventional ‘police’ equipment. Suginami does not have the small community safety stations like Arakawa-ku, although they do also have the same problem of local koban (police boxes) being closed. However where Suginami really stands out is in the sheer number of volunteers they have involved in their community patrols, organised through the local PTAs, shoutenkai (shopkeepers’ associations) and choukai (community associations). There are 140 groups with 9600 people actively involved in one way or another in community safety just in Suginami.

Suginami is a relatively wealthy ward and the kinds of problems that concern Arakawa (mainly minor street crime and snatch-thefts) are not such big issues here.  The main concern in this ward seems to be burglary and furikomi – the practice of gangsters and other criminals calling old people and pretending to be a relative or representative of a relative and persuading them to transfer money to a particular ATM (which you can do in Japan – it would be impossible in the UK). Furikomi is a very interesting phenomenon in that it seems to be a product of family, social and technological changes. Many older people who would have lived with family in traditional Japanese society are now living alone. They are lonely and miss the intimacy of family contact, so they tend to welcome unexpected calls from relatives who may now be living almost anywhere in Japan. These older people are also technologically literate and able to use mobile phones, ATMs and computers. The combination of this technological skill, dispersed families, and psychological vulnerability makes for a ripe target for fraudsters, and Suginami estimate that 40% of all crime in the ward is some form of furikomi.

In many ways, increasing concern for privacy is also a product of this change in lifestyles and family structure, as well as building techniques – western-style walls and better sound insulation mean that you can’t always know what is going on in the next room anymore, let alone in your neighbours’ apartments or houses. This also makes burglary rather easier, as once the thief has got past the initial walls or doors, no-one can hear or see very much. The intense and intimate ‘natural surveillance’ that used to characterise ordinary Japanese communities is disappearing. But the Suginami community safety officers see the possibility of revitalising such natural surveillance, and protecting privacy, without going down the route of impersonal, technologically-mediated surveillance. In many ways, this is quite heartening – if, of course, you are of a communitarian mindset. Such supportive, mutually monitored and very inward-looking communities can be stifling to those who do not fit and exclusionary to those from outside… and, not coincidentally, one of our last interviews was with a leading support group for foreign migrants in Japan, who have a very different perspective on all of these developments. That will be in my next post, which may not be until Saturday as we’re going off to Kansai for a couple of days…

(Thank-you to the Disaster Management section for their time and patience).

Is sousveillance the answer?

Marina Hyde in the Guardian last week wrote a very interesting piece on the ongoing fallout from the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests in London. She argued that the appearance of mobile telephone camera foogtage, which revealed more about the way the police treated the passerby, showed that this kind of inverse surveillance (or what Steve Mann calls ‘sousveillance’) was the way to fight the increase of surveillance in British society.

I’ve been suggesting this as one possible strategy for many years too, however what Hyde didn’t really deal with is the other side of the coin: the fact that the authotorities in Britain already know that this is a potential response and are trying to cut down on the use of photographic equipment in public places. Anti-terrorism laws already make it illegal to photograph members of the armed forces, and in the new Counter-Terrorism Act, there is a provision to allow the police to isue an order preventing photography in particular circumstances. Further, it is now regarded as suspicious by police to be seen taking an interest in surveillance cameras.

The bigger issue here is the fight for control of the means of visibility, and the legitimate production of images. The British state is slowly trying to restrict the definition of what is considered to be ‘normal’ behaviour with regards to video and photography. In the new normality, state video is for the public good, but video by the public is potential terrorism; police photographing demonstrators is important for public order, but demonstrators photographing police is gathering material potentially of use in the preparation of a terrorist act.

However, I am not 100% in favour of the proliferation of cameras, whoever is wielding them. I think it’s essential that we, at this moment in time, turn our cameras on an overintrusive and controlling state. However a society in which we all constantly film each other is not one in which I would feel comfortable living either. A mutual surveillance society in which cameras substitute for richer social interactions and social negotiation, is still a surveillance society and still a society of diminished privacy and dignity. I worry that sousveillance, rather than leading to a reduction in the intrusiveness of the state, will merely generate more cameras and more watchers, and merely help reinforce a new normality of being constantly observed and recorded.