Citizens guarding communities: Conflict needs to be resolved

Over recent days, questions about how citizens might use technology to try to protect communities or individuals from criminals — violent thieves or suspected paedophiles — have been pushed to the fore of public discourse.

In Midland counties, community groups use surveillance cameras, especially at motorway roundabouts, to try to counter the gangs attacking isolated homes. These gangs often inflict gratuitous, independence-ending violence on their victims.

Nevertheless, it has been suggested that data protection legislation may prevent any evidence gathered in this way being used to secure a conviction.

This seems bizarre and must be clarified, especially as a network of cameras seems a far more civilised response than a campaign of shotgun vigilantism.

In Leeds, yesterday, a Dublin man appeared in court, charged with attempting to have sex with a 13-year-old girl. He was arrested after a community group confronted him on a city street.

The group had created a fake media persona and, apparently, lured the man to a point where he could be apprehended. He had, it is claimed, engaged with this invented identity in a way that provoked the most serious suspicions.

These two examples stand in stark contrast to each other — entrapping vigilantism, in one case, but questions about the admissibility of evidence in another.

This contrast shows how urgent it is to establish the legal position.



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