March 1st, 2010


Column 3: My CCTV Career

I’m doing my bit to save the planet. I car-share with a friend who lives in the same village as me, and who happens to work in the same place. We take it in turns to drive to work. This cuts down on the need to have two cars going from one place to another every day. And, because we are doing this, we are members of a car-share scheme which means we get a free parking space for being so good. This is a great saving and everyone benefits, so we are good at being good.

This isn’t what I am planning to write about but it sets the scene very nicely. You see, our free parking space is a reserved, numbered spot in the police station car park. As I get out of my (or my friend’s) car in the morning I look across the car park and see three security cameras trained on us. Then, as we walk past the police station to cross the road, there is another security camera, presumably designed to make sure that no-one steals the police station. It’s a big old Victorian building part of which used to be a prison. It has huge traditional blue lamps either side of the enormous front door. No-one is going to steal it, it would be hard to disguise as something else, even if you took the lamps and the sign that says ‘Police’ down. And anyway, where would you put it?

Britain has become obsessed with security cameras. Everywhere you look, particularly in towns and cities, there are cameras high up on buildings, on stalks and on lamp posts. I’m going to throw in some statistics, for in this column I want to back up what I say with hard-hitting hard facts. Are you ready? Okay, here we go.

China has a population of around 1.3 billion people, and it has 2.75 million security cameras. That works out at about one camera for every 487 people. The United Kingdom has a population of around sixty million and has 4.2 million security cameras, which works out at about one camera for every fourteen of us. The United Kingdom represents about one percent of the world’s population, yet it has twenty percent of the world’s security cameras. And, and mind you, the number of cameras in the United Kingdom is forecast to double over the next eight years.

Believe it or not, I have an opinion about that. My opinion is not based on hard-hitting hard facts, but I think it probably comes closer to any truth that’s out there lurking under rocks and skulking in bushes than any government scaremongering propaganda will ever do. My opinion is that this is wrong, that there is no need for all this, and what’s more, it is not actually enhancing our security in any way. My opinion is that the authorities and businesses have been driven paranoid by ludicrous assertions of terrorists behind every pillar, of forces of evil in the shadows of every doorway and a miscreant inside every hooded top.

Now, it has to be said, not everyone shares my opinion. When I mentioned this to my cousin the other day she could not get beyond the cameras being there for our safety, that they are there to catch criminals and to prevent crimes taking place. The crime figures in this country don’t seem to bear that out. I put it to her thuswise. When a shopkeeper has a couple of security cameras fitted, trained on his till and the entrance to his shop, they are not there to protect his customers, but rather to protect him and his property from his customers. And, in principle, there is nothing wrong with that.

To me, the same goes for all the cameras run and monitored by government agencies. They are not there to protect the people of this country but rather to protect the establishment and its interests and position of power from its people. I don’t believe the people of this country are so bad, though I don’t feel the same about our authorities and our so-called representatives. Closer to the truth is that the authorities, big business and those who claim to represent us are, effectively, spying on us. For their own nefarious needs they want to know where we are, how we move around, where we congregate, who we mix with, how long we spend in different places. This is so that they can corral and herd us, pitch their products and treat us like children. Like so many of the things I rail against, it’s about control and their own paranoia.

Having said all that, I heard a wonderful story on the radio a while ago. A young rock band in, I think, Nottingham couldn’t afford to make a video to accompany their latest locally released song. So, they hit upon a brilliant plan. They went around the city, stood in front of lots of security cameras and mimed and performed, posed and acted up. When they were satisfied they had done what they needed they submitted a Freedom of Information (don’t get me started!) request and demanded the tapes. They didn’t get all they asked for but they got enough to be able to edit a passable video which they then used to promote their single. Now that’s what I call initiative. That’s what I call using the system to your own advantage.

When I see a security camera I just smile and wave, and I hope that really annoys and gets up the nose of whoever happens to be monitoring the screens at the time.