By JP Floru
I attended a Freedom Bill Committee hearing in Parliament. The witnesses included spokespeople for the human rights organisations Justice and Liberty. At issue was the CCTV part of the proposed Freedom Bill.
One after the other they clambered to “reassure” the MPs that they didn’t campaign to fight CCTV or do away with CCTV. What they wanted was...better regulation. At times they were positively gushing about “the step in the right direction” this government is setting with the proposals to regulate CCTV. Never mind that not a single CCTV camera will be scrapped as a result of this Bill. It was only upon the pointed question by Steve Baker MP as to what they thought the general aim of a CCTV policy should be that they timidly uttered: “fewer cameras”. But they did not subsequently tire themselves into stating what is blatantly obvious to anyone who has read the Bill: that it manifestly fails in this primary aim.
The civil rights’ organisations tactic is obvious: they want to ensure that they continue to have the government’s ear (real or imaginary). They have apparently decided that the battle about the very existence of millions of cameras has been lost. So they try to obtain the best outcome with the cards in hand: better regulation (for some of the statist mindset regulation is of course always an aim in itself).
So it is now left to a few oddball individuals and eccentric politicians to fight the very existence of millions of cameras spying upon our every move. One attendant looked wistfully through the window at the Thames: would the water be cold? Soma was needed, urgently.
Nobody knows the precise number of CCTV cameras in the UK. The consensus seems to be that there are about 4.5 million. Security experts believe there will be 8.6 million by 2018.
As some MPs correctly pointed out at the hearing, there are cameras because people ask for them. People feel safer, partly inspired by a few high profile cases where CCTV was instrumental in catching the criminals. There are many studies which have proved that in reality CCTV is not an effective crime fighting tool. In a CCTV Task Group two years ago I asked a young gang member what difference the presence of a CCTV camera made to him. “I put m’ hood on”, he said. In some cases CCTV cameras have lured people into a false sense of security – wandering through areas which are positively dangerous. Never mind: the curtain twitchers ask, and the politicians give, irrespective of cost, proportionality, effectiveness or philosophical desirability.
Most people are not bothered about the presence of CCTV cameras. “I do nothing wrong. Why should I fear the cameras?” is a commonly heard response. Most people only change their views when they see a camera being pointed into their bedroom. Or a tape is obtained by somebody who shouldn’t. Or an attempted suicide in 1995 is caught on CCTV and shown on national TV. Situations like that are too grave to wait until a majority of the population suffers from it. That is why freedom minded individuals rely upon civil rights organisation to fight the battle, even when we are losing it.
Those freedom minded individuals were let down yesterday. Believing that CCTV is bad, while at the same stating that when it’s regulated all will be fine is a fine example of Orwell’s doublethink: the acceptance of two contradictory beliefs to fit in with the system. Let’s hope the civil rights organisations come to their senses.