Time for change


Damn Orwell

Back in July, when the subways were getting bombed in Britain, I wrote an article about the use of closed circuit televisions (CCT) as tools for surveillance in cities. London had long been using cameras to watch its public spaces and the captured images of the transit bombers sealed their (supposed) effectiveness. Cameras are good, they’ll tell you, because they act as a deterrent for crime. People see the cameras, know they’re being watched, and magically behave like they’re not gun-toting maniacs. Easy as a piece of Big Brother’s pie.

More recently, from our neighbours to the south, we hear this: Bush vows to continue domestic surveillance without seeking court warrants. The trend is the same and Machiavelli’s words are once again echoed: people, when left to their own devices, are not to be trusted. They require external force. They require surveillance. They need to be watched.

But the example par excellence comes once again from Britain. It was announced today that Britain will become the first country to monitor and record the movement of all vehicles. Here’s the tag line: “The network will incorporate thousands of existing CCTV cameras which are being converted to read number plates automatically night and day to provide 24/7 coverage of all motorways and main roads, as well as towns, cities, ports and petrol-station forecourts.”

It’s a good thing that your license plate doesn’t link with your social insurance number, your birth date, your address, your sex, your occupation, your phone number, your height, your photo, and your signature. Because that’d be an invasion of privacy. And that’s just wrong.

We’re just a small step away from cameras in schools, cameras in homes, or cameras in restrooms. And why not? “It's part of public protection. If the security services did not have access to this, we'd be negligent."




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