There is a general trend to cite the rise of the CCTV (security camera) as an example of the reduction in personal privacy we enjoy in the UK. Certainly as a totem of intrusion, there is no better image than that of a CCTV mounted on a pole watching people like some Orwellian nightmare – it is certainly more media friendly photo than a computer disc with millions of details on it.
However, is the hype really justified?
I am quite sensitive about privacy issues – but as it happens I am not too sure that the CCTV is actually the villain is it painted as. What does the CCTV actually do – well, those which are actually monitored (and most are just video taped and never actually watched) are fed into a room filled with screens and a few people monitoring them.
Basically, three or four people are casually watching a bank of TV screens watching for anything which looks odd. If you are just wandering along the road, then your actions are just what I would call, background noise – and hence totally ignored.
OK – that still sounds intrusive – but think about what the CCTV has replaced. Each CCTV is basically replacing a security guard or policeman on the beat – so they are simply a cheaper way of providing a security presence which would probably be there anyway.
I don’t subscribe to the argument that “if you have nothing to hide, why worry” – as I think that is quite oppressive, and I rather like the idea of being able to walk down the road in whatever manner pleases me without feeling obliged to “conform” with societies norms.
But, which would you prefer – a CCTV which is barely glanced at, or a security guard standing there glaring at you as you walk past him?
Oddly, I think I prefer the CCTV model, as ironically it probably offers more personal privacy than having guards standing on every street corner watching everything I do.
Of course, as technology advances and we get to the point where individuals can be identified in a CCTV image and then tracked all the way around town, then I will be very unhappy as that would be the equivalent of the “bobby on the beat” following me around the place. Add in that my every train journey is logged on a computer – which I am VERY unhappy about – and you have the emerging potential for a surveillance society to emerge.
But until that day – I think the paranoia about CCTVs is a bit overhyped, and worryingly may divert attention from the real privacy problem – the uncontrolledÂ rise of computer databases used to track our every movement and transaction.