CCTV, Data and Privacy

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Some CCTV cameras.

There are 4.2 million CCTV cameras in Britain, one for every fourteen people. But that figure is already woefully out of date. As I write this, more CCTV cameras are being installed in shops, blocks of flats, on street corners and over motorways, so that figure rises by the day. In an average one of those days, you & I will be recorded over 300 times.


The big argument that CCTV cuts crime is hollow. Never mind the argument that cameras deter crime, which is rather spurious in any case, a constant feature of crime reports on the TV is that "Police are examining CCTV footage". But over 80% of crimes still go unsolved. Surely criminals are also filmed 300 times. If CCTV met the claims put forward, the UK should have the lowest crime rate in the world. Of course CCTV is a vital tool in the "War on Terror"(c) as the mantra goes. After 7/7, the public eagerly awaited the release of the CCTV footage and when, with a fanfare, it finally was released there was a great collective sucking of teeth and nodding of heads in a wise fashion as people said "See - without CCTV we would never have seen this". So what? Did it stop the bombings? Was there anything in the film that enabled other loonies to be caught?

I think the great CCTV scam is designed to scare the public into accepting ever more draconian laws. If we see real crime being perpetrated by real criminals 24/7, how can we argue against the need for more police, more CCTV, more invasion into our lives by faceless civil servants. Is it any coincidence that reality shows, video clip shows, police car chase shows and Crimewatch are the some of the most viewed programmes in the UK? We are obsessed with watching other people do wrong.

Occasionally we hear people protest about this invasion of privacy, but really, we don't care. How can people seriously object to ID cards when the phenomenon of the 21st Century has been sites such as Facebook and Bebo. These are sites where people display the inane minutiae of their petty lives for anyone and everyone to see. Even message boards like this one - it isn't hard to get a helluva lot of personal information on the people here. Freely offered.

Government in the 21st Century has more information on the population at it's fingertips than any other in history. And it wants ever more. Not content with knowing your every movement and financial transaction, it wants your DNA on file. Not just yours either; it wants EU-wide access to the personal information of over 700 million people. Why? Has this increase in available information made things better for anyone? Are Government policies so much better now that decisions are made with the benefit of so much information?

And there is just so much information held by government that there is no way on earth it can ever be fully utilised. Trillions of hours of CCTV held in limbo that will never, ever be seen by the human eye. Skyscrapers of computer servers stuffed with every detail of our lives that will shuffle endlessly in an electronic loop. All this has to be managed - an army of clerks interminably sifting and sorting to no visible result. Each year the Government hires more and more people to sift more and more information in its insatiable desire for "more Input". Where does it stop? Will every room of every building have it's own CCTV suite? Will every foot of every pavement and road be scanned constantly? Will every tree have a UAV hovering above with its glinting Zeiss eye recording?

Is this navel-gazing on a societal scale?

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