Thursday, 20 February 2014

Surveillance State

I want to visit Barcelona to take a photo of Orwell Square. George Orwell is famous for fighting in the Spanish Civil War and for writing books like 1984 and if you want to know how the surveillance state plays its part in a dystopian society then look no further than this novel. The irony is that the signs for his square in Barcelona are next to surveillance cameras - and that's the photo I want. Obviously not everyone has taken George's message on board. Cameras may play a part in protecting individual properties but they definitely intrude.

Do cameras lower the crime rate? If you were a criminal and wanted to steal something then you may see a burglar alarm and decide to move to the next house. Alternatively you may decide that there is something worth stealing from the house with the alarm so disable it and then go about taking what you want. There are many motivating factors for criminal activity like greed, envy and poverty but I don't think fear of getting caught is a significant factor. Yes, there are opportunistic thieves, and there is less opportunity when security is greater, but less theft depends on those motivating factors.

So should I be pleased if a group of local businesses create a police / community CCTV system? Well it is good for them but no, because overall crime won't decrease. A local initiative will do nothing to help the causes of theft. Secondly, I don't want all my moves to be recorded. Thirdly, why should some people get better support from the police. Fourthly, who is paying for this? If it is the group of businesses that is paying then they will have higher expectations from our public service. This is wrong. Decisions about how we are policed should be made by the police. If general taxation is paying for the implementation of this initiative then this is wrong too. Why should we pay to help a small group of businesses get a better police service over another small group? Technology is only as good as the people in charge. It may be used for good purposes but it can be for bad purposes too. Whatever the case, we are definitely moving along the road to Orwell's dystopian society.

If we want to live in a society in which every house and every business has shutters and looks like Fort Knox. if we want to have surveillance cameras on every street (why should some houses be excluded from this 'improvement'), if we want to live in a 1984 society then more cameras will help. However I would prefer to work on the causes of crime as this would help to a much greater extent than adding more cameras.

Interestingly I once dealt with a theft from a hospital which had 17 cameras surrounding it. I found the appropriate recordings and handed them to the police. They didn't have the equipment to deal with videos at that station but they sent them on. Needless to say nothing happened and it took three weeks but at least we can be assured that one small hospital keeps 17 x 24 hours of recordings each day.

Someone has to pay for cameras, someone has to deal with those recordings and there are costs involved in their maintenance. The latest technology may help those who receive payments and it may help if thieves move next door. To all my previous reasons to oppose this initiative you can add the cost.

Change the world

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