I was walking through a Tube station
not so long ago. I passed a pair of yobbos
who seemed to be annoyed that the ticket
shop was closed and shuttered, and took their frustrations out by kicking the shutter
. They were interrupted by a voice over the tannoy
, saying, 'Just turn round lads, so we can identify you for the police
A not uncommon occurrence, now that we have CCTV monitoring us in many places. People still seem to have qualms about loss of privacy when they think about it (mostly civil liberty groups), but that it has been introduced into general life does not bother us. We seem to have, by and large, gotten over our fear that we would have our right to privacy taken away from us. We seem to have concluded that it's no big deal.
But the other fear, beyond total loss of our privacy in such a world, is that the controllers of this surveillance set-up may somehow let their 'power' go to their heads, and utilize the CCTV system as a tool of control. This anxiety is, of course, heavily influenced by George Orwell's book, 'Nineteen Eighty Four', which more or less predicted the coming of a 'surveillance society', which in the book led to a harsh and inescapable techno-tyranny.
And I can still see that as a possibility that may come about. Just considering the type of person that I imagine takes a job monitoring goings-on through the CCTV screens. The work they do is not what I would consider to be particularly strenuous, and the operatives do not need to stretch themselves in order to perform. Plus, they probably enjoy their position a little too much.
If the government decided, incrementally, that they were going to use CCTV for purposes that the vast majority of us would disagree with, it is unlikely that the watchers would refuse to go along with the government's wishes, or even raise any serious complaint. In 'Nineteen Eighty Four', the surveillance society was run by people intensely motivated to stamp out anything that they considered deviance. In our society, the surveillance society is run by security guards who try to scare louts with their booming voices as they drink coffee. Both kinds of people would be perfectly happy to manage a system that was used more and more often against the interests of the public.
So where would that leave us, if that state of affairs were to begin to emerge? Would we be able to arrest it's development? How could we influence the government to use CCTV to serve our interests, and not just theirs? I suspect that many of the civil libertarians would say that the mere possibility means that CCTV should be scrapped, on the grounds that neither government nor private companies can be trusted to not turn this technology around on us. But who says it has to be that way, and why should it be?
Because of us, I say. Why should CCTV be bad for us? Because we might allow it to be used against us. If the watchers were really determined to turn it to their own purposes, purposes that went against what was best for us, in what manner could we persuade them to desist from doing so? Would there be a way to influence the goons that the watchers would presumably rely on for running the system? Should we stand by and allow the goons to assume control of the system?
Perhaps it might be possible to get more involved with the way the system works, maybe even convince the CCTV staff to find ways in which CCTV could actively help us, beyond 'crime prevention', and 'ease of criminal identification'.
For example, private citizens, suspected of a crime, being allowed access to footage(through lawyers if need be), in order to prove that they were 'somewhere else' and did not commit the crime they are being accused of. If this happens often enough, it might go a long way in breaking down the 'mystique' of the CCTV control room, might even help to prevent the CCTV controllers from developing the habit of thinking that the public are like cattle that need to watched and managed (as police officers often do), as well as being another avenue of civilian participation in government and civil matters. In this way, the dangers of CCTV might be avoided, through the magic of civil scrutiny. We just have to make it happen, press whoever is in charge to make it happen, and not defeat ourselves by assuming that it is impossible.
What is it that really bothers people about CCTV? That we would eventually become tagged, filed, and scrutinized by malevolent bureaucrats and so-called 'civil servants'? Or that we would need to become much less passive and disinterested if we were to avoid having our society becoming something we would not like. Maybe fears about CCTV reflect fears about not wanting to put in the effort to keeping society from becoming tyrannical at all. Or maybe the general lack of imagination about how technology could be used for good would defeat us.
Despite this, I actually am in favour of CCTV. Being realistic, I see that CCTV is not going away. But even if it were possible to completely do away with CCTV, it might be a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Since there are benefits to be had from CCTV, and the drawbacks of CCTV are not really impossible to deal with, I am dubious that rejection of it is what constitutes sensible behaviour. To talk of rejecting it, instead of talking about ways in which it can aid us, and how we can make that happen, seems like wasted time and effort.
Technology is getting more and more advanced, I say it's time we got good at learning how to get to grips with it. The best way to learn this, I believe, is by contending with it, not by banning it. Banning it only deprives us of the opportunity to do so, and in that way, to become more capable and not let outside forces run our lives.