Friday, October 19, 2007

glass onion II

speaking of across the universe (see yesterday's post), at one point there is an exterior shot of a street -- i think it's in liverpool, when jude is leaving a pub, but not 100% certain -- in which for a split second a modern CCTV camera is clearly visible on a pole near a corner. it seemed a bit sloppy, but apparently those things are hard to avoid.

the l.a. times has a piece this morning on how CCTV cameras in britain are now ordering people around, via speakers included in the equipment. whether they talk or not, these cameras are literally ubiquitous:

By some estimates, 4.2 million CCTV cameras, or one for every 15 people, quietly, and sometimes not so quietly, monitor the comings and goings of almost everyone -- an average person is caught on camera up to 300 times a day.

the story gives an overview of how public surveillance became accepted in britain relatively early on, due to its usefulness in investigating IRA bombings and the like and, more recently, helping to catch child abductors and other offenders. the police collect the DNA profile of every person arrested -- not convicted, note -- for any crime. it's to the point now where some cities want to measure households' trash output via electronic chips and are encouraging people to snitch via hotline on those who violate the new no-smoking-in-public-places ban.

when i was in london a couple of years ago, i did notice the cameras everywhere. they seem well engrained in the popular culture, too: on the BBC doctor who spinoff torchwood, captain jack's crew often make use of the CCTV system to track movements of their own team members as well as suspicious activity. i don't think they've shown any cameras talking yet, so apparently this is a case of truth being stranger than fiction.

this is all done in the name of keeping people safer, of course, and, as britain has no bill of rights or privacy act, it's quite easy to keep a TV eye on folks w/o much legal opposition. it's an accepted way of life: the warrantless wiretaps so fiercely fought over here in the u.s. are barely even an issue over there.

additionally, the cameras apparently have amazing predictive powers:

The CCTV cameras not only talk, but they also can be linked to software that scans vehicle registration plates to track suspects through the city even before they have committed crimes.

wow, how is someone a "suspect" before they've even committed a crime? don't borrow your ex-offender friend's car, or you might find yourself under suspicion if you go to the wrong place at the wrong time. speaking of fiction, it reminds me of the AI cops in jeff noon's novel vurt.

of course, even the police admit the cameras mostly don't help to deter crime (maybe that's the point of adding voice capability, to ratchet up the authoritarian intimidation factor?) but can be useful in catching offenders after the fact. some civil rights groups are concerned about how closely the citizens are watched, but, predictably, most people apparently don't mind. here in the u.s. we don't have this type of system on this scale -- yet -- but we already have the attitude that only sneaky people would be opposed to 24/7 surveillance. after all, who else but someone up to no good would object to big brother watching?

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