Welcome to Britain, the Surveillance State

2 Feb 2016


Britain is officially one of the most watched countries in the world. CCTV cameras have become an everyday feature of life for British citizens. The British Security Industry Association (BSIA) estimates that between 4 million and 5.9 million cameras silently watch the nation. Placing this into some kind of context, we are watched by 8,500 CCTV cameras when we travel on the London Underground; one transport network.   


If the presence of public space CCTV cameras isn't causing alarm, police and private security companies are now using Body Worn Video Cameras to record incidents. It seems to me that the warning given in the novel 1984 by George Orwell about the dangers of the surveillance state has been ignored. The question isn’t whether we should use surveillance technology, but how much surveillance is enough, and how much power we – the public – really hold over state and private intelligence services.


It's important to remember that we grant power to authorities to ensure our safety. Yet the confidence of many voters has been shaken to the core. We've seen successive governments devalue the police; replacing humans with computers and cameras.



The above table, taken from the gov.uk website, evidences an alarming dip in police numbers, especially since 2010. This removal of police officers from our streets has led to an over-reliance on CCTV cameras and a desensitised attitude towards crime.


Indeed, following the Tories’ election to power as a majority administration, the party’s real agenda is crystallising: the security agenda. Barely a day goes by without a Conservative MP uttering the word “security” to a TV camera. David Cameron has used this agenda to readily attack Jeremy Corbyn, and now it is dominating political discourse in Britain.


The government’s Sauron-esque approach towards surveillance should also be considered in the context of press regulation, which is impinging freedom of expression in Britain. Moreover, Cameron’s suggestion that the state should sponsor “parenting classes” is a worrying nod to authoritarianism.


The involvement of the state in individual affairs should be minimal. Whilst I recognise that CCTV can play a vital role in crime prevention and justice, we cannot allow our lives to be endlessly observed. This technology, especially Body Worn Video Cameras, is a direct abuse of power that assumes guilt before innocence.


How can it be right that I'm filmed, my actions scrutinised, without a reason or a warrant?  I have worked in the private security sector and have been asked to use this technology unethically. I find it abhorrent that any organisation believes it has a divine right to film someone.


Consequently, we should implement tougher legislation with regards to the use of Body Worn Video Cameras, involving fines when they are employed unethically. We also need to bring about a resurgence of preventative police patrolling. Police officers were once pillars of our community, who helped to ensure social cohesion, not merely apprehend criminals. Now they are seemingly an afterthought.


By restoring preventative patrolling and scaling back the use of CCTV, we would be able to check the trend towards authoritarian surveillance. Indeed, I do wonder sometimes what it will take for the public to question why we are, perhaps unwittingly, embracing the expansion of the Nanny State.


Civil liberties are there to protect us from tyrannical institutions. We cannot afford to have blind faith in our government. After all, the government does not have blind faith in us.

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