Surveillance society

CCTV systems are watching and recording us

Today my little job is to create an instruction manual for a Closed Circuit Television system so that it can be interrogated handily by anyone who is responsible for the covered area.

I know of at least four CCTV systems in Allendale, and so, probably, do you, if you think about it: the monitors are generally in plain view for staff and clients to see. I remember about a decade ago, the Parish Council was deliberating over whether to install CCTV cameras covering the square; the decision was taken against the coverage, but I don’t honestly remember if this was for financial reasons, or civil liberties concerns, or what.

But I do remember arriving at the Recreation Ground, one Monday morning after the May Fair, to discover that an entire line of birch trees, just becoming firmly established in about their third year of growth there, had been decapitated, killed in a night-time orgy of senseless drunkenness, or more likely druggedness. It reminded me of Paul Newman in ‘Cool Hand Luke‘, actually, where he decapitated the parking meters, but that was funny — still vandalism though, and drunk as he was, he was slung in the lock-up immediately and was working in a chain gang the next day. Unfortunately, nobody could finger the culprits of the tree destruction, so after that incident, the council and the park management got together and installed an obvious and overt surveillance system that’s dramatically reduced cases of petty vandalism.

But now everything that goes on in the park is witnessed, as it were, by video cameras, and the intrinsic privacy of normal folks enjoying their afternoon stroll, for example, is impinged upon. And that’s the culture we live in, relinquishing a component of our privacy for the greater good. They say that the UK is the most over-looked, monitored, surveyed, videoed, recorded society in the world — perhaps not surprising considering the prophecy of Big Brother in the book ‘1984‘ by one of the country’s greatest authors, George Orwell. I suppose I should be worried about that, but strangely, along with most folks I imagine, I’m not. I’d sooner sacrifice my privacy to create a deterrent to tree vandalism, than not.

The deterrent effect is more important than most folks realise, I’d bet, so much so that much time might pass by before the system needs to be interrogated to figure out some incident. Over that time, playback and recovery procedures can be forgotten, and so that’s why my instruction manual work should be handy today, just in case something untoward happens that needs to be looked at after the fact.

And of course, because this is a diary of life in Allendale, we can’t just assume that this monitoring, these processes, are not part of that life, can we? Even here, in remote and isolated Allendale, the cameras are working. While we go about our normal lives, these days, we are often, but probably not always, being watched, and that’s the simple truth of it.

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