The Tagg chapters repeatedly made me think of the UK’s controversial CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) network, and I am interested to hear how the rest of you view the “CCTV phenomenon.”
I was first introduced to the heated topic of CCTV when I went to Manchester, England in July 2009. One of my first nights there, over dinner with students from Spain, Poland, Japan, and India, the subject arose; one of the guys said that he loved Manchester but hated how pervasive CCTV was—cameras were not only in stores but also throughout our dorms, making students uncomfortable that cameras were recording how late they returned in the evenings, with whom, and, in some cases, who went into whose rooms. Some students complained that they felt uneasy having cameras on buses and reported having read articles that proved that many cameras were not even accurate enough to be able to be of much use in identifying criminals. One student said that the use of CCTV was his biggest qualm with the UK, which made me (a) think of Orwell’s 1984 and (b) eager to learn more about CCTV usage in the UK. Reading Tagg renewed this interest of mine, and I thought some of the info might be relevant enough to be of interest to others, too.
According to the Information Commissioner’s Office, “The UK is recognised as a leading user of CCTV and the public are used to seeing CCTV cameras on virtually every high street. Such systems continue to enjoy general public support but they do involve intrusion into the lives of ordinary people as they go about their day to day business and can raise wider privacy concerns.” (http://www.ico.gov.uk/for_organisations/topic_specific_guides/cctv.aspx)
A BBC newswriter gives telling statistics about just how prevalent CCTV cameras are in the UK (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8158942.stm)
• “Both the Shetland Islands Council (101) and Corby Borough Council (90) – among the smallest local authorities in the UK – have more CCTV cameras than the San Francisco Police Department (71).
• Eight British cities have more CCTV cameras than the authorities in Paris.
• The London borough of Wandsworth has as many CCTV cameras (1,113) as Dublin City Council, the Police departments of Johannesburg and Boston and the City of Sydney authority combined.”
The same article also offered quotes providing justification for the use of CCTVs:
• James Cousins from Wandsworth Council defended the widespread use of CCTVs. He said: “Residents actually like CCTV, its makes them feel safe, it makes them feel secure….We’re not doing this because we want to watch people; we’re not doing it because we think watching people is the solution to all the problems…We’re doing it because we think it’s a great tool to actually make Wandsworth a safer place.”
as well as highlighted the problems with CCTVs and advice for future measures:
• ” Det Ch Insp Mick Neville of the Met police’s CCTV unit said most forces do not have systems to retrieve, process and distribute CCTV crime scene images. Officers in some London boroughs are failing to solve any tier one and two crimes such as serious assaults and robberies using CCTV, he added….“What I would say,” he continued, “is we’ve got enough cameras, let’s stop now, we don’t want any more cameras…Let’s invest that money that’s available and use it for the training of people, and the processes to make sure whatever we’ve captured is effectively used.”
Of further interest: BBC One’s Crimewatch, where viewers watch CCTV video recordings and help locate criminals. Click on the right panel, and you can sort cases by type and location: http://www.bbc.co.uk/crimewatch/appeals/cctv.shtml
Google will bring up ample websites and blogs lobbying against CCTV cameras. One of the more significant ones is http://www.no-cctv.org.uk/default.asp
(On a side note, one of my favorite images from this site is from Placa George Orwell in Barcelona. The photo is captioned “The Catalonian authorities clearly haven’t read 1984.” http://www.no-cctv.org.uk/images/Placa_George_Orwell_1.jpg)
This site links to another WordPress blog that summarizes one of the main arguments against CCTV:
“With over 4.2 million CCTV cameras across the country, there is no doubt about it: Britain is a surveillance society. And the great achievement of a surveillance society is instilling a sense of ‘being watched’ on its subjects so they ‘normalise’ their own behaviour in an act of self-policing. But if ‘normal’ is only the type of behaviour that obeys the rules and laws of those who watch society, who watches them?” (http://cctvtreasurehunt.wordpress.com/)
A fairly recent New Statesman article provides some interesting information on CCTV usage (http://www.newstatesman.com/ideas/2010/05/surveillance-film-cctv-camera)
“The central mystery that remains is why the UK embraced surveillance culture far more enthusiastically than other countries, turning us into perhaps the most watched nation on earth. J G Ballard’s novella Running Wild (1988) suggested that this obsession with security was indicative of a deep malaise, which had its counterpoint in an emerging feral state – something that was captured in the surveillance images that recorded the abduction of the toddler James Bulger in 1993.
But another movement was being recorded: the drift into blankness. With everything revving towards instant communication, the cameras showed how little could still happen, with only the stamped-on time code proving that you weren’t just looking at a photograph of an empty car park. These new recorders showed consumption and boredom in equal measure, to which, it could be argued, the only conclusion was the invitation to terror.
… As important was Northern Ireland, for which much of the technology had been developed in the first place (such as the ANPR vehicle-check system, still in use in London). A huge boost in funding followed the IRA Docklands bombing in 1996. A year later, there were more than 167 town-centre surveillance schemes (using over 5,000 cameras); there had been just three in 1990. By 1998, CCTV accounted for more than three-quarters of total crime prevention spending (around £8.5m that year) and, over the next five years, the Home Office made a further £170m available. But in February 2005, an academic paper commissioned by the Home Office found that CCTV was not an effective deterrent to crime, nor did it make the public feel safer.”
Of less “newsy” interest:
(a) What children in the US and UK have to say about CCTVs in schools:
(b) The Tate Modern’s current exhibition “Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera.” Its “blurb”: “The UK is now the most surveyed country in the world. We have an obsession with voyeurism, privacy laws, freedom of media, and surveillance – images captured and relayed on camera phones, YouTube or reality TV.” (http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/exposure/default.shtm)
More info in the exhibition: http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/exposure/theme5.shtm