Visitors to British cities are immediately struck by one thing ? not the culture, not the architecture, not the food or even the beautiful women. But by the 4 million CCTV video cameras on street corners, bearing down on them, watching and recording their every move.
These cameras were brought in during the 1980’s in response to rising crime rates in the cities and they haven’t left. In fact, they are becoming more and more prevalent as no-one wants to remove them and be accused of being soft on criminals.
In London, there are 10,000 of these cameras and they were reputed to have cost over 200 million pounds ($315 million).
Londoners seem to have very little problem with them, despite being monitored in real-time by the Metropolitan Police (London police) and London’s transport authorities 24 hours a day, every day. You would think those same people would kick up a fuss about them, calling them Orwellian and protesting about their invasion of privacy. But you would be surprised at how very little protest there actually is.
Here’s what I personally think. First, the cameras probably make people feel safe, despite numerous studies proving beyond a doubt that crimes are not affected by the cameras. One study claimed that only 3% of crimes were solved by CCTV. If a robber wants to mug someone or an attacker wants to attack someone, they will do it, whether the cameras are there or not. They will just cover their faces to avoid identification (or at the very least make identification rather difficult).
So, I would perhaps alter my statement and say that the cameras provide an illusion of safety and it’s that feeling of safety that perhaps makes a lot of people accept their presence. If a crime is picked up on CCTV, the police can be alerted faster to the scene and later in court, the footage can be used to prove the crime occurred and to help convict those responsible.
Secondly, British people, by their very nature, tend to obey authority. For a very long time, the policeman was seen as someone who deserved respect, the good old ?British bobby?. People in uniform, whether it be a policeman, a soldier or a postman are automatically trusted.
In wartime, when the government introduced national identity cards, people went along with it without protest because they were told it was for the greater national good (although recent attempts to reintroduce identity cards were shot down by loud howls of protest, so perhaps this climate of obedience is slowly starting to change).
Thirdly, for several decades, Britain was subjected to a violent and vicious bombing campaign by the IRA (Irish Republican Army). During the worst of it in the 1970’s and 1980’s, bombs were going off in British streets all the time, and London, as the seat of power, bore the brunt of it. The CCTV cameras helped to make citizens feel safe again as suspicious cars were picked up on camera and dealt with before they could potentially explode. It also made it harder for the terrorists to escape undetected.
Lastly, any protests that there may have been were drowned out for good in 1993 when a little boy called James Bulger, was abducted from a Liverpool shopping centre by two ten year old local boys. James was subsequently murdered and it was the grainy CCTV footage showing him being led away by the two boys (which later ensured their conviction in court) that sealed the deal for permanent CCTV tracking.
What helps people accept it is perhaps that there is no central surveillance centre. No one big government place which could be compared to the Ministry of Truth. Surveillance in each city is separate from one another and camera footage is only passed onto the relevant authorities when there is evidence of a crime.
Now the rest of the world is taking notice and following suit. The mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, visited London in May 2010 to see the CCTV setups for himself, as he wants to repeat it in New York. And now the New York police department wants to install 3000 cameras in the city by 2011.
So, although George Orwell may be turning in his grave at the thought of 24 hour constant surveillance, it is gradually becoming an accepted part of British life, and it isn’t going to go anywhere soon.Originally published on TopSecretWriters.com