Surveillance Society - 'We are the watchers. We help you'
Fri Oct 20, 2006 05:02

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Surveillance Society - 'We are the watchers. We help you'
Date: Fri, 20 Oct 2006 07:35:18 +0100
From: NLP Wessex

“It’s about living in what is increasingly a police state."
Harun Morrison

The Times October 19, 2006
We are the watchers. We help you
Guy Herbert

Is Britain safer with CCTV everywhere? No one knows. But it is certainly
more fearful

YOU DON’T KNOW ME. But I know you. Oh yes. You don’t mind me following you,
do you? All I want to do is look after you.

When you come out of your house first thing, I’m watching. And I’m with you
every step of the way — to the shops, to work, wherever you go. I’m there on
the bus just behind you. I recognise your car, too. I know where you bought
it. And I’ve a list with every trip you take and which way you went. I take
notes, lots of notes.

I’m keeping an eye on your children, too, by the way. I know where they go
to school, what subjects they take, what their teachers and doctors say
about them (and you), where they go and what they do. I know whether they’ve
ever been in trouble. That’s always useful.

I haven’t been in your house yet, but I can sometimes see through the
window. I know how you bought it and where the money came from. I know your
bank account numbers and sort codes, your credit cards and your driving
licence numbers. I know who you call (but not what you say), who you e-mail,
what you look at on the internet. I care about you so much I want to know
everything about you. And I want you to be safe.

FEEL like calling the police? What if he is the police? Britain is, by a
large margin, the most watched society in the Western world, and getting
more so. There are certainly many more cameras watching us than elsewhere.
No one knows how many. It is said there are more cameras in London than in
the entire United States. It sounds plausible — American visitors are
startled by the level of surveillance — but figures are hard to come by. The
Association of Chief Police Officers announced last Christmas that Britain
will be the first country in the world where every car journey is monitored
using automated number plate recognition (ANPR).
Whether being watched makes us in any sense safer is unknown — figures are
hard to come by there, too. The Home Office has sponsored a study by the
Scarman Institute but no national evaluation has emerged. Its early findings
refer to “the current paucity of evidence as to the cost-effectiveness of
CCTV as a crime-prevention mechanism”. A dozen pages of management tips for
setting up such schemes follow, as if value were beside the point.

It is. The popularity is not hard to explain. Cameras appeal to public
prurience. They offer glimpses of a perpetrator or a victim: little Jamie
Bulger being led away, four young men with rucksacks on a day trip to
London. They tell true-crime stories to make the flesh creep, but the flesh
only creeps because we know how the story turns out. There’s nothing
informative in prospect about such pictures, but they give a thrill of fear
in safe, modern lives. No wonder some studies show that CCTV increases the
fear of crime. “Security” is a sign of insecurity, and it breeds more

That is the narrative logic of identity cards. There’s a collective fantasy
at the heart of it, that invisible dangers are being tamed by invisible
angels on our shoulders. But that is the fantasy of the submissive and the

Criminals aren’t subdued by social sanction or embarrassment, or they wouldn’t
do crime. They don’t need your approval and tolerance. They — and crime
figures — are unmoved by official interest. Watchful Britain is not a hugely
safer place than its heedless neighbours.

That’s irrelevant to the stalker State, though. The watchers, as watchers
will, are extending their remit from the streets to the schools, to our
individual lives. Database surveillance, where records are collated and
cross-referenced to build up a picture of an individual, is still invisible
to most. ANPR tracks your car. The Connexions card maps your teenager’s
life. The Children Act “index” is designed to tie together all records
anyone has anywhere about your children before they reach 16. The Home
Office hopes that the ID card database will link the lot and tidy up all
those temporary lodgers, mobile phones, cash purchases and hotel stays that
are so difficult to keep track of otherwise . . .

If you know that there’s always someone looking over your shoulder, how do
you feel? Anxious? Will it change the way you behave? Inevitably, for most
people. Newcastle University researchers found this year that even pictures
of eyes on the wall made academics more compliant with an honesty-box
system. If you feel you are being watched, or might be being watched, you
will most likely act as is expected of you. If you are watched, you are less
an individual, more part of the crowd. Surveillance is not security, but it
is control.

Control, certainty, is in the end what the stalker wants. But a controlled
society is a fearful, passive one, where the desire for safety strangles
change because people are afraid to stand out, to move off approved paths.

A recent London Underground poster purportedly tackles bullying. It shows a
schoolboy attacking a smaller boy at the centre of a frozen tableau. Many
people look on, their heads replaced by cameras. No one intervenes. The copy
advises us if we see bullying to call the helpline or visit a website. The
message is: “Watch. Wait. Worry. Leave it to the authorities. And remember,
always remember, that if you do do something, that something can be held
against you. There will be a record, somewhere in the database State.”

Guy Herbert is general secretary of NO2ID. He will be speaking at the Battle
of Ideas, organised by the Institute of Ideas with The Times, on October
28-29 (0207-269 9220).
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