Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Surveillance Nation

Human Events:

Surveillance Nation
by Alexander Deane

Posted 10/28/2009 ET

I’ve written previously on HUMAN EVENTS about the state of Big Brother Britain, and things are only getting worse.

News broke this week that the police have a series of databases recording the personal details of thousands of people who attend protests or rallies, which are searchable by a number of officers and come complete with color photographs assembled and printed onto “spotter cards” which are then distributed to enable agencies to monitor attendees at events. Cost of this part of the surveillance state alone? Over nine million pounds.

Moreover, we have the most CCTV of any country, we have the world’s biggest DNA database, and we have a “Regulation of Investigatory Powers” Act which empowers councils to carry out covert surveillance of people -- legislation which was introduced to be used sparingly in serious cases such as organized crime and terrorism and is instead now regularly used for investigating noise pollution, school catchment areas, fly-tipping (i.e. dropping garbage), dog fouling. Certainly, these things ought ideally to be policed, but do we need to empower hundreds of agencies with secret powers to do so? To give you a sense of the scale of this surveillance, consider over 500,000 such covert investigations took place last year alone.

Now, it seems that the U.S. is thinking about following our example. The people of the good city of Atlanta are currently debating the installation of an additional 500 -- yes, 500 -- CCTV cameras. Remembering the amusingly disastrous Guardian precedent of Brits offering our American friends advice during the 2004 Presidential election, I merely hope that those in charge of the decision-making will note that

    • Cameras are often turned off or not working, as happened in an unpleasant beating in Somerset in the U.K., or in Delhi (where all 27 cameras supposedly watching the site in question were non-functioning) -- which is much worse than them simply not being there, as law enforcement becomes dependent on an unreliable resource.

      The quality of footage is often such that courts cannot use it.

      Research indicates that crime is not driven down by the presence of CCTV as confirmed by London’s Metropolitan Police report this year, which stated that one crime per year was solved per thousand camera.

      The public purse offers finite resources, and money spent in this way is money that
      cannot be spent on other forms of policing, such as officers on the street.

      There are obvious privacy issues which usually go ignored, but shouldn’t.

So -- pause before following our example. Once you’ve created the surveillance state, it’s very, very hard to dismantle it.

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