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4 Million Cameras Spy on U.K. Citizens
Are Brits sleepwalking into the nightmarish Big Brother world envisioned by Orwell?
Peter Hinchliffe (Hinchy)     Print Article 
Published 2007-06-04 05:22 (KST)   
The British, who invented the spy novel, are now the most spied-upon citizens on earth.

Four million cameras watch them in the lanes, streets, public squares and highways across the land, more than in any other Western democracy. In an average day, a Brit will be surveyed by around 300 cameras.

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One-fifth of the world's surveillance cameras are focused on the Brits.

The closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV) are mounted on high, fixed to buildings, or sometimes on poles. The pictures relayed day and night by the cameras are monitored by the police, or civilian firms acting for the police.

The aim is to deter crime and to provide filmed evidence if criminal acts occur.

Most Brits are blissfully unaware that they are being constantly spied upon. If they do look up and notice a camera, the majority think that being monitored is a small price to pay if surveillance deters criminals and terrorists.

CCTV cameras are also widely used in areas where security is essential, such as banks, casinos, airports and military installations.

In London there is roughly one camera for every 14 people. The authorities say citizens should not worry about being closely surveyed -- unless they are doing something wrong.

"Talking" CCTV, which tells people off for dropping litter or behaving in an antisocial manner, are in use in the city of Middlesbrough. Plans are afoot to use talking cameras in other parts of the country.

In Middlesbrough loudspeakers have been fitted to seven of the city's 158 cameras. When misbehavior is spotted a warning message goes out. The manager of the warning system said, "It is one hell of a deterrent. It's one thing to know that there are CCTV cameras about, but it's quite another when they loudly point out what you have just done wrong.

"Most people are so ashamed and embarrassed at being caught they quickly slink off without further trouble.

"This isn't about keeping tabs on people, it's about making the streets safer for the law-abiding majority and helping to change the attitudes of those who cause trouble. It challenges unacceptable behavior and makes people think twice."

Requests for misbehavior to cease are made in a polite manner. If it does so, the operator in the control center says, "Thank you."

Home Secretary John Reid, supporting the introduction of talking CCTV, told BBC News that some people may be concerned about what they claim to be civil liberty intrusions, but the vast majority of people were more upset because they can't go out and feel safe and secure in a healthy, clean environment because of a minority of people.

The British taste for spy fiction dates back more than a hundred years. Erskine Childer's novel The Riddle of the Sands, published in 1903, is hailed by some critics as the first book in the British spy genre. It is still in print. However, others claim that Rudyard Kipling's Kim was the first book to cater to an appetite for spy stories.

The Cold War spy novels of John le Carre were very popular, and still command an eager audience despite the fact that the dismantling of the Berlin Wall nearly two decades ago de-frosted East-West relations.

Britain's most famous fictional spy, the creation of author Ian Fleming, is of course Agent 007 James Bond. Bond movies still rake in millions of dollars worldwide.

Critics of Britain's ever-growing "regiments" of spy-on-high CCTV cameras claim that their homeland has become the Big Brother state imagined by author George Orwell.

Orwell's famous novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, first published in 1949, tells the story of citizen Winston Smith, who works in the Record Department of the Ministry of Truth, rewriting the past to suit the needs of the ruling Party. He rebels against the totalitarian world in which he is trapped, a world controlled by a Party that demands absolute obedience and enforces it by monitoring every citizen through all-seeing telescreens, and the watchful eyes of Party head, Big Brother.

Civil liberties campaigners say that the general acceptance of millions of surveillance cameras suggests that Brits are sleepwalking into the nightmarish Big Brother world envisioned by Orwell.

Ross Clark, writing in The Spectator magazine some years before CCTV cameras had spread throughout the land, said, "The inexorable rise of the fly-on-the-wall documentary suggests that a good many of us see nothing but good in being watched, down to the last belch and fumbled kiss. In star-struck Britain, perhaps, the thought that some government employee ensconced in a basement considers our humble little lives interesting enough to warrant surveillance is more flattering than frightening."

Clark wondered whether the most effective guarantor of freedom might be not in trying to stop the state from snooping, but in obliging the snoops to share their secrets with its citizens: "CCTV footage? Put it on the Internet so we can all see what's going on in Brentwood High Street. Credit ratings, police records, MI5 footage -- let us see the lot. At the very least, it would get the voyeurs of modern Britain interested in the relationship between the state and the individual."
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Peter Hinchliffe

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