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Big Brother is Watching You. On CCTV.
April 2, 2007 1:09 AM   Subscribe

George Orwell, Big Brother is watching your house. With CCTV. Perhaps the Surveillance Camera Players could put on a performance there. It looks like Britain really is becoming a surveillance society. [Via Digg.]
posted by homunculus (44 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
If the 'performance' link doesn't work, perhaps this one will.
posted by homunculus at 1:30 AM on April 2, 2007


Cameras are hardly the most pernicious or useful form of surveillance. Or are they[1][2]? Is Sousveillance the answer? But what are the limitations of the visual? Can't photography also be empowering in situations where other kinds of surveillance are hegemonic?
posted by honest knave at 1:33 AM on April 2, 2007


I also recommended these two british docs from Channel 4:

Spinning Terror

Stealing your Freedom

In a strange way the british public is less concerned with so called 'security' then the government is obsessed with 'watching' (their own citizens).

Also 'talking' CCTV cams [here and here].


posted by homodigitalis at 1:37 AM on April 2, 2007


On the wall outside his former residence - flat number 27B - where Orwell lived until his death in 1950, an historical plaque commemorates the anti-authoritarian author. And within 200 yards of the flat, there are 32 CCTV cameras, scanning every move.

Orwell also briefly lived on Parliament Hill right next to Hampstead Heath. I used to pass it on my daily run when I lived in NW3 - along with at least 42 cameras that covered my 8 route (I once counted the ones I could see.) Irony like that should have its own bus tour.
posted by three blind mice at 2:08 AM on April 2, 2007


When he wrote Animal Farm, he lived here. No security cameras at all. Now, the communism on the other hand...
posted by twine42 at 4:32 AM on April 2, 2007


I have complete confidence in the bureaucratic efficiency of the UK. The government cameras will only be put to sinister use after 14 meetings per camera and about 6 rounds of hiring and firing and then paying consultations so much that they have to unplug the cameras to save money. Ultimately, this will have little effect on deterring the crime that it is focused on: used gum on the sidewalk/pavement.
posted by srboisvert at 4:51 AM on April 2, 2007


The Big Brother State is a nice, short, film on the state of the UK's surveillance nightmare.
posted by TheDonF at 5:55 AM on April 2, 2007


Trying to see movie 1984 (made in 1984 with richard burton and john hurt) is now very difficult in the US: not rentable on netflix, not buyable on amazon, if bought in the netherlands, it will not play on US dvd players.

(strange that this movie would go missing).

But worth watching. And inviting your friends.
posted by brewsterkahle at 6:33 AM on April 2, 2007


I'd presume the vast majority of these are operated by private individuals/companies, which is kind of the opposite of 1984. But don't let that get in the way of a good story.
posted by cillit bang at 6:41 AM on April 2, 2007


What the hell is the deal with Brittan's obsession with security cameras? Other countries don't do this, why does the UK?

And while there are a lot of cameras in the US, they are all independent instillations by property owners, so you don't have situations where the government can track your every move, or where you always have the feeling of being watched continuously.

And at the same time, one camera for every 4.2 people? What's the point? Obviously you're not going to have every camera watched 100% of the time, or even 10% of the time.

This gunshot detection system in Minneapolis is a much better idea, it doesn't violate privacy and it does stop crime.
posted by delmoi at 6:43 AM on April 2, 2007


I'd presume the vast majority of these are operated by private individuals/companies, which is kind of the opposite of 1984. But don't let that get in the way of a good story.

Why would you presume that?
posted by delmoi at 6:47 AM on April 2, 2007


Why would you presume that?

It's probably less of a presumption and more of an inference based on living there. Most of the UK cameras are mounted on private buildings.

There are police operated cameras in a lot of public areas (there is one just about 200 yards from where I live) and sometimes mobile camera vans but by far the majority of the cameras I see around are just external property surveillance. No different from what you see in most North American urban areas.
posted by srboisvert at 7:04 AM on April 2, 2007


Why would you presume that?

Because I fucking live in North London, Mr Judgemental of Iowa. Canonbury is not the kind of area local authorities/police find excuses to put up security cameras. Note that all the examples in the article are privately run.

If I wasn't so lazy I'd go there and check.
posted by cillit bang at 7:08 AM on April 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


check out this creepy signage for London transit: looks like the cover of a 70's sci-fi novel. via Aleph, a friend's blog
posted by exlotuseater at 7:16 AM on April 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Actually, if my keen analysis of TV and the surprisingly entertaining "In Death" series by JD Robb are any indicator, public or private ownership makes no difference. In the book series, cops have the right to take all the surveillance tapes and analyze the crap out of them to solve crimes. Now in the books, the crimes are always gruesome murders, but I guess political dissent or unauthorized exercise of free speech could probably be monitored as well.
posted by BeReasonable at 7:28 AM on April 2, 2007


brits have a unique attitude toward surveillance. they also have a unique attitude about sex. i'm wondering if it's related.
posted by bruce at 8:27 AM on April 2, 2007


Sexveillance!
posted by papakwanz at 8:34 AM on April 2, 2007


Police and the Home Office are planning a significant upgrade of the CCTV network in a move that will deepen concern about a lurch towards a "surveillance society'.

New laws would require camera operators to ensure that their equipment produces images good enough for police investigations.

posted by veedubya at 8:50 AM on April 2, 2007


This gunshot detection system in Minneapolis is a much better idea, it doesn't violate privacy and it does stop crime.

Surely it doesn't prevent crime any more than the cameras do? It just helps to capture the guy who fired the shot.

And this is the country that is really pushing hard to get mandatory ID cards that no one actually wants.

I blame the reality TV show. It has defanged the whole concept of 'Big Brother'. Most people think Jade instead of Orwell these days.
posted by slimepuppy at 9:38 AM on April 2, 2007


Right, so I've been to Canonbury to take pictures (zoom in) of all the cameras in the article. Of the 23 on the newspaper's map, I found 18. Not one of them is in any way official or government run, and the vast majority are on private houses, mostly only monitoring their gardens or front yards, not the street outside. Interestingly, there was no sign of any of the ones on Canonbury Square itself.

It's only when you get to the main road off the left edge of their map where there's a speed camera, a congestion monitoring camera and a giant police camera (I presume - it's unmarked) all monitoring a busy junction.
posted by cillit bang at 11:17 AM on April 2, 2007 [5 favorites]


I don't understand why people whinge about cameras. Cameras aren't a problem if they aren't there for sinister reasons, which they aren't, they're there to help catch people who break the law. If you don't think the laws are right, that's a completely different issue, as are the political ideals of those in power. Simply having cameras does NOT make it like 1984, and it is absurd and ludicrous and propagandist of the Evening Standard to suggest so. They are just doing it to stir controversy and sell papers. A major difference between the novel and the reality is that in the book people are compelled to have the cameras in their houses. When that happens, it might be pertinent to refer to Big Brother. If people want to start criticising the government for being authoritarian (which in some ways it is, since it is introducing compulsory ID cards) then that is one thing, but you can't level that accusation simply based on the number of cameras. I would imagine most cameras are operated by local councils, or by the police, not by central government. They are not there to suppress political dissent, but to help the police catch criminals!
posted by mokey at 11:25 AM on April 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


“Canonbury is not the kind of area local authorities/police find excuses to put up security cameras”

Nothing to see here. Move along. It’s only used against ‘bad people.’ No affect on society. There’s no collusion between private concerns powerful enough to have their own surveillance operations and the government. It’s nothing like 1984 because...um....1984 didn’t talk about private corporations.
To quote from cool hand luke: Those poor bosses need all the help they can get.

“Researchers highlight "dataveillance", the use of credit card, mobile phone and loyalty card information, and CCTV...
There are up to 4.2m CCTV cameras in Britain - about one for every 14 people....
But surveillance ranges from US security agencies monitoring telecommunications traffic passing through Britain, to key stroke information used to gauge work rates and GPS information tracking company vehicles, the Report on the Surveillance Society says.”

I like ‘Ed’ from London’s comments. Bike stolen. They have time and image of the thief from the private CCTV system, but the cops won’t track him down. Gosh, you think perhaps something other than protection of citizen’s rights and property is going on? Naaaaah. Why would they do that? Other than y’know, money. And power. And control. And stuff. Surely someone wouldn’t want to gather masses of data across a broad spectrum simply to exploit the data to amass wealth, would they? I mean, that’s really tinfoil hat time there. What could someone do with the knowlege of how/where/when people shop and buy things and where they go and what they do and what they say and personal details and stuff? Nah, it’s just trying to prevent bad people who cause trouble by stealing. If you’re doing nothing wrong, you shouldn’t have to worry about being watched 24/7 right? Of course, if the definition of ‘wrong’ is shifted a little... but hey, it’s not a communist dictatorship where they take our property away. Well, Ed’s girlfriends property maybe, but that wasn’t the state doing it, so it’s ok. They just watched. And, uh, well, didn’t retrieve it.
I don’t live in the UK, but as far as I’m concerned this is on preview for the U.S.

S’funny. Everyone talks about how they’d stand up to the Nazis or Big Brother or some such totalitarianism if it ‘happened here.’ But it’s not like they suddenly come in and start marching in the streets one day. It’s done by inches. One minor, innocuous seeming thing after another. Well, if you’ll allow cameras on private property for safety, why not public property for safety. ‘Ok.’ Howabout a lot of them then? ‘Er...’ And why not aimed at “bad people’s” houses. ‘Might be a bit far.’ Ok, we’ll just monitor their computer and phones then. Until something really terrible happens and then people demand the security theater.
You have to get your own back. Anyone who tells you different is lying.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:43 AM on April 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


Smedleyman, sounds like your problem there is commercialism, not totalitarianism.

"If the definition of wrong is shifted a little" - Yeah, what's that got to do with cameras exactly? How are cameras and the definition of wrong connected? You're just putting that in there, but it's nothing to do with cameras. That's a totally different issue.

As for the police not getting the bike thief, that's more to do with the allocation of police resources. Maybe the police shouldn't spend so much on cameras, and more on finding people's bikes, fine, but the original accusation was not that crime-fighting funds are being misallocated, it was that the government is watching everyone for nefarious purposes, which hasn't been shown.
posted by mokey at 11:57 AM on April 2, 2007


Smedleyman : Surely someone wouldn’t want to gather masses of data across a broad spectrum simply to exploit the data to amass wealth, would they? I mean, that’s really tinfoil hat time there.

That possibility is certainly something to be aware of, but do you have any evidence that anything like that is happening? Police not bothering to pursue a nonviolent theft is not evidence that they're busy setting up a list of people to politically persecute.

You imply that you're not a "tin-foil hat" type (and I'm not saying you are) but there doesn't seem to be much that's concrete behind your slippery-slope argument, besides the vaguely paranoiac assumption that a democratic society can't responsibly maintain such a system without turning it to fascist uses. It certainly has that potential, but the same is true of any potential tool of state control like armies/police forces or access to broadcast media. We have to monitor those things, not just abandon them.

I'm not saying that CCTV is even necessarily cost-effective as a police tool, but it'll be a while before I start seriously worrying that it's too dangerous to British democracy.
posted by Drexen at 12:00 PM on April 2, 2007


And indeed - if cameras (on public property) are there to catch criminals, and if they fail (as they anecdotaly seem to have in Ed’s case) or if the results are negligible or indeed if they are vulnerable to abuse, you’d have to question why tax dollars are still being spent on them instead of, say, more police patrols and such. I myself have no problem with the cop on the beat watching me. I know that if someone tries to mug me (hypothetically), the cop can intervene. Cameras? Well, maybe a bit later, after I’ve already been beaten and my money has already been spent and I’ve had to cancel my credit cards and such, they’ll capture the guy - and have evidence. But I’d rather have a trained officer on patrol who can - y’know - prevent crime and is actually accountable for his actions, not several steps removed. If he’s following me, I can ask him why. Cameras, not so much.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:03 PM on April 2, 2007


It's cute how a standard of any UK police drama is that the police have access to CCTV footage of the crime.
posted by smackfu at 12:15 PM on April 2, 2007


(ach, should have waited)

“We have to monitor those things, not just abandon them.”

Agreed. But it’s harder to monitor those than nearly any other form of police activity.

“sounds like your problem there is commercialism, not totalitarianism.”

Fascism, actually.

“Yeah, what's that got to do with cameras exactly? How are cameras and the definition of wrong connected?”

Interpretation. The argument is similar to the one on virtual trials. In many ways a camera can chill certain types of activities. Offhand - perhaps a given organization within a building is under investigation. You’re seen going in there (for whatever purpose) by a camera. Without going too far afield - let me say that it’s similar to intelligence gathered by humans vs. intelligence gathered by observation machines (satellites, say). Data gathered by a mechanized process is far more subject to interpretational misappropriation than data gathered by a human being. One generally sees what one wants to see.

“it was that the government is watching everyone for nefarious purposes, which hasn't been shown.”

And that’s a fair enough assertion. I agree it hasn’t been proven. But again - the problem is the interpretation of data drives what you’re looking at when you use a mechanized process. Eventually dependance on cameras can lead to oodles of self-fufilling prophecies. I’d agree it hasn’t happened - although monopolization of the data from the cameras by government agencies is a bit of a problem (if it shows a criminal doing - whatever- they’ve got the tape, if it shows police impropriety the tape is “lost” or some such)
Maybe it won’t happen, but people are wonderful at rationalizing all kinds of things. I’d rather see an independant oversight group have control over data captured from cameras - with say back up copies somewhere.
Both counter-arguments/criticisms presented here are reasonable. I’m not thinking of the cameras per se. I’m thinking there is far too much self-interest in the system to remain stable.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:20 PM on April 2, 2007


Interesting here in NYC that there are many public video cams that one can visit online of the West Side of the city but not on the East Side, where the city's rich and powerful have apartments.
posted by nickyskye at 12:43 PM on April 2, 2007


Ahem.
posted by papakwanz at 4:01 PM on April 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Thanks papakwanz, I was just about to link to that. Surveillance is power.
posted by anthill at 7:57 PM on April 2, 2007


lol - camerabra

From Steve Mann's lab... got $1500 to burn?
posted by anthill at 8:02 PM on April 2, 2007


Papakwanz, what is your point? In the old days they supposedly had policemen "on every street corner" in London, and policemen patrolling the streets. Isn't that pretty much the same deal? The police were there to keep an eye on things, but people generally liked them being there. Is it just because they can't see who's on the other end of the camera that people are getting all paranoid?
posted by mokey at 12:19 AM on April 3, 2007


Mokey - I hate to be so damning but I think you don't get this thing at all. I rarely post here but I think I should now. I used to live in the UK and I still have a lot of friends there. They ALL think it's becoming / become survailence state (and we have a monsterous arrogant government no one likes!).
Crime is rising, people are scared, the police on the street corners you mention prevented crime by being there, cameras do not. The current function of the police in the UK is to give people crime reference numbers so they can claim on their insurance and to collect speeding fines. This is not an exaggeration or a joke.
Crime in Britain is out of hand and cameras have done nothing to stop it.
Here's a little quote Richard Linklater used to describe Scanner Darkly: "We're living in science fiction. And it's not the fun sci-fi from when we were kids. We're not on Jupiter. It's sort of the darker sci-fi. And that's what Dick saw -- government and corporate control, used to condition you. To alienate you from others and yourself."
We're living in this survailence society, we just don't accept it because it don't quite look like the one we're been taught to see in fictions, but it might well soon...
posted by sam and rufus at 3:58 AM on April 3, 2007


Sexveillance
isn't that called voyeurism?
posted by honest knave at 5:49 AM on April 3, 2007


Crime is rising, people are scared, the police on the street corners you mention prevented crime by being there, cameras do not. The current function of the police in the UK is to give people crime reference numbers so they can claim on their insurance and to collect speeding fines. This is not an exaggeration or a joke.

Can we get the batshitinsane tag on this thread please?
posted by cillit bang at 9:23 AM on April 3, 2007


How about the "nothingtoseeheremovealong" tag?
posted by papakwanz at 11:26 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Trying to see movie 1984 (made in 1984 with richard burton and john hurt) is now very difficult in the US: not rentable on netflix, not buyable on amazon, if bought in the netherlands, it will not play on US dvd players.

At least we've still got Brazil?
posted by sparkletone at 7:11 PM on April 3, 2007


I’d rather have a sexecution than be under sexveillance.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:03 PM on April 3, 2007


Sexcrime
posted by homunculus at 9:48 PM on April 3, 2007


"Talking" CCTV cameras that scold people seen carrying out anti-social acts are to be installed in parts of the UK.
posted by homunculus at 12:12 AM on April 4, 2007


sam and rufus : Crime is rising, people are scared, the police on the street corners you mention prevented crime by being there, cameras do not. The current function of the police in the UK is to give people crime reference numbers so they can claim on their insurance and to collect speeding fines. This is not an exaggeration or a joke.
Crime in Britain is out of hand and cameras have done nothing to stop it.


The UK crime rate has been declining steadily for at least 10 years, actually.
posted by Drexen at 2:35 AM on April 4, 2007


Drexen, have you actually looked around England in the last 10 years? Do you think it's got better or worse? Those lovely statistics are based on "perception of crime" you know - not actual crime but focus groups about crime. Real accurate stuff.
And Cillit Bang - when was the last time the police did something helpful or useful for you or someone you know?
posted by sam and rufus at 5:45 AM on April 4, 2007


Sam and/or rufus, the National Crime Survey asks people straight-up and anonymously whether they've been a victim of crime recently. I don't think there's a better method of recording real trends. Would you rather see Police statistics on reported crime?

when was the last time the police did something helpful or useful for you or someone you know?

Never, because no one I know has been a victim of crime that I recall.
posted by cillit bang at 7:45 AM on April 4, 2007


sam and rufus : Drexen, have you actually looked around England in the last 10 years?

Um, yes, I live here.. unlike you. In fact, I live in the East end of London, currently right between the poorest borough (Tower Hamlets) and the most murderous borough (Hackney) in England. In two years I've never been victim to, or witnessed any crime. So please, tell your friends to calm down, and take the hysterical headlines in the Daily Mail with a pinch of salt.
posted by Drexen at 8:05 AM on April 4, 2007


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