The main purpose of the CCTV panopticon this country has become is not to prevent crime, nor to detect it, nor to prosecute it after the fact, but simply to keep an eye on people. This Guardian report on an underground spy centre in London must surely dispel the doubts of any remaining believers to the contrary:
On separate screens a mother walked a pushchair in Belgravia, a chef emerged from a Chinatown basement clutching bin liners and a cyclist tapped the window of a Burger King restaurant.
All were being watched by one of the 160 fixed cameras connected to the control centre, or any of the dozens more “mobile” cameras with Wi-Fi connections attached to walls across the city. At the controls was Dan Brown, who supervises operators whose job it is to zoom into anything suspicious. “We’ve got cameras everywhere,” he said. “We can pretty much see everything.”
What they cannot see may be sent via instant radio message, from an army of police, shop workers and “red cap” street guides who alert the operators to any abnormal behaviour they encounter.
The camera zoomed in to a man in a suit until his face sharpened into focus. The man kept glancing at his watch, as though he was waiting for someone … for the most part, the job is to watch out for “suspicious” behaviour.
Wholesale surveillance of people going about their lawful business in public areas is pernicious, expensive, ineffective and frankly – given its minimal transparency, accountability or regulation – as scary as hell. If one is out taking photographs in public, waiting for a colleague or trying to attract the attention of a friend in a restaurant, one should be free to do so without wondering whether right now, someone in an underground bunker is recording one’s image in a database, classifying one as a suspect or sending in the goons to have one picked up and questioned.
Are you that mother? That chef? That cyclist? How does it feel to be watched? To be suspected? Do you feel safer or do you feel threatened?
This madness must stop. We must fix the UK CCTV problem. Now.