Sunday, April 30, 2017

Someone's Always Watching


Britain leads the world in CCTV -- Closed Circuit Television -- with about 6 million cameras in public places according to this 2013 article in The Telegraph newsmagazine.     Some produce fuzzy images and others are out of operation but if the television show Caught on Camera on Netflix is accurate, you are always on view while walking down any street in a town or city in England.   Some also employ facial recognition technology.   In tucked away rooms full of computer screens and wireless connection to ground level police constables, individuals and groups are studied and perused by trained personnel who can follow anyone who engages in anti-social, criminal or even suspicious behaviour by clicking on the appropriate camera from street to street.  Scenes from cities like Rotherham, London and Manchester depict aggressive and violent attacks and mall and restaurant cameras show petty thieves and shoplifters in full action.   It's depressing to watch.

There was a time when things were different.   Yes, stores have had private detectives who walked around the store incognito and pretended to be shoppers, all the while keeping watch for shoplifting.  I suppose you can't complain when you enter private premises.  But I find the idea of being watched all the time as I walk down the street, into a park or wait at a bus stop to be unnerving.  Maybe it's because it wasn't always so.   If you have grown up without an expectation of privacy then you might accept it.

England also employs cameras, mounted on police cars or set at the side of highways that scan, read and evaluate license plates of vehicles speeding by.   This information is analyzed by a super computer that can instantly advise waiting operators if the car is stolen, uninsured or in some other way committing a transgression.

There is an expensive helicopter that can be deployed with night vision cameras that can be useful, if necessary, to track criminals whether they hide in the hedgerows or garbage bins.   There's no escape.  Even wearing hooded jackets and baseball caps doesn't seem to provide sufficient disguise.

Has this reduced crime?   I hope so, because all of it makes me uneasy.  Maybe because I read 1984 well before 1984 and thought it described an unlikely society.   The television program makes it look effective as burglars, copper stealers and purse snatchers are apprehended and brought to justice.  At least the cameras aren't mounted in our homes with clear view of all areas. Someone might tune in and note if you were following the prescribed daily exercise program.

But it all seems part of a bigger plan and designed to make some of us nervous.   I've read that photocopiers are required to keep a record of all copies made, cell phones record every call and text and computers can be analyzed to discover every site visited and every key stroke made.  I guess George Orwell didn't think of that.

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