In the past month I’ve been living in England, a country of ale, floods and some royal human beings. The UK has another pendant issue that makes it even more unique and notoriously debated: it is the omnipresence and ubiquitous of the eye. No, I’m not referring to white barbed, Mr. all powerful in the protestant sky, nor to Orwell’s or Fitzgerald’s novel, I literary mean one eyed machines that overlook some bipeds and quadripneus underneath.
Walking along the sidewalks of the clean streets of London, Oxford and some harmless villages nearby one notice many signposts, indications and stickers attached to the street illumination posts warning you that you are being watched. Now to the juicy polemic… is it right or wrong, moral or not, helpful or a complete waste of resources?
The Closed-circuit television (CCTV) system seems to be, in most cases, extremely well hidden. In London many are located on the rooftops in such a way that even Yoda will have difficulties to spot (I want to differ the kind of cameras I’m referring to the traffic cameras that are in almost every western city and town). Even with my 20/20 and love of spy movies I barely managed to spot a few. In the villages the spotting game is even direr. I tried for some time yet until I asked a local, I couldn’t distinct them from a simple electricity box.
So far, whenever I mention the camera issues, especially to a foreigner, the front directly frowned and the left corner of my interlocutor’s mouth suddenly rises in discontent. Some actually pronounce words and say it’s not constitutional, and try the use of law jargon referring to something about liberty, freedom and privacy. Of course, there are many arguments against an intrusive and potentially problematic data such as this (hacking, facial recognition system, drone house surveillance etc.). Some can talk about social control in the neoliberal city, others about urban regeneration, yet with the years that go by it seems that the number of cameras grows much higher than the population.
According to the Telegraph there is one surveillance camera for every 11 people in the UK (after that in 2011, it was estimated forth of that). That means that in a population roughly estimated to be around 63,705,000 people, there are 5,791,363 cameras.
The same article also quotes Simon Adcock, of the BSIA, The British Security Industry Authority, saying that “Effective CCTV schemes are an invaluable source of crime detection and evidence for the police. For example, in 2009 95 per cent of Scotland Yard murder cases used CCTV footage as evidence.”
In my opinion, other than the possibility to track the criminal footsteps, there is also the prevention issue. Try the next experiment at home: leave some money or any valuable item on the sidewalk, and see how long before it is carried away never to be seen again. Now, put a sign nearby that notify the presence of a camera. What do you think will happen? Or, as Dan Arieli once replied to a Halloween fan, leave the candy basket outside only make sure there will some sort of identification form to every kid that will pass by the door, otherwise, say goodbye to the candies with the first group of kids.
So is it really the growth of the “surveillance state”? We all know the image of a all common four camera post in a busy junction, it certainly leaves the impression that UK has lost its way. However, strolling in the streets of the mannered state, the only visible items are the signs, and to be honest, considering that it´s probably not you that they are looking for and that any mugger will think twice before trying anything, I feel, well… like someone is watching over me.