Let’s not be hysterical about CCTV

Shared on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/twicepix/8310058192/As reported by the BBC and Sky, the CCTV Code Of Practice (PDF) comes into force today. Nick Pickles of Big Brother Watch featured heavily on BBC Breakfast this morning, urging applicability of the code to private CCTV operators.

Big Brother Watch writes:

The code is a step in the right direction towards bringing proper oversight to the millions of cameras that capture our movements every day. However, with only a small fraction of cameras covered and without any penalties for breaking the code, we hope that this is only the beginning of the process and that further steps will be taken in the future to protect people’s privacy from unjustified or excessive surveillance.

I detest on principle that we are under so much routine surveillance today but it seems no one is capable of winning that argument. When I sat on the Protection of Freedoms Bill Committee, I noticed in evidence sessions that neither Liberty nor Big Brother Watch were prepared to oppose surveillance as such given the authorities resort to it in the face of real problems.

Even Big Brother Watch is only calling for more to be done. They want more powers for the regulator and universal applicability of the code, both of which roll forward state power. What next? Registering all our hand-held video cameras and smart phones?

The truth is that we must not be hysterical about CCTV.

Just because Albert Speer warned at the end of his Nuremberg Trial that technology allowed an evil dictator to multiply his crimes doesn’t necessarily mean that today’s much more advanced technology will ever create greater dangers, crimes and oppression.

After all, in the midst of a historic financial crisis from which it appears we are beginning to recover thanks to the creation of vast quantities of new money, there is no realistic reason to think that power in the Eurozone, the USA and the UK is about to be seized by political radicals. It’s inconceivable that events in Greece and Spain will escalate out of control. And people in England hardly ever engage in mass riots.

No, when one looks back at the modern history of the western world, there are few examples of extreme authoritarians seizing power after vast, failed interference in the system of money and banking, at a time when people believe liberal, capitalist ideologies have failed, when they have continued faith in state power and yet feel politicians are lazy and incompetent. The “third way” has only occasionally collapsed into tyranny in its failure. Almost never does a small minority of extremists secure the ashamed acquiescence of enough people to make a democratic majority to further their dreadful aims.

Civilised western European countries rarely collapse into utter barbarism enabled and multiplied by technology, so let’s not be hysterical about CCTV and the surveillance state.

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