Big Brother watches U
Reality TV has been a big hit in the UK ever since the first season of Big Brother in the year 2000. It has found its way to people`s daily lives, and not just via the TV screen. Citizens of Glasgow can be sure that they are observed 24 hours a day, in the city centre and residential areas alike. An impressive number of cameras, announced as CCTV (Closed Circuit TeleVision), have taken possession of the streets. I am wondering how that makes people feel.
Kevin (23) and Michael (28) are not dissatisfied with the system. `If you don`t do anything wrong, you have nothing to fear`, says Michael, but he immediately specifies that it does not feel nice to feel like a suspect if you haven`t done anything. `It`s more of a question how far authorities can go into people`s private lives. I`d prefer to see police men in the streets, but that would be an impossible job. The cameras may help prevent crime, and we are OK with having them`, says Kevin. Michael is slightly worried about the technical capacities of the camera. He used to work in a supermarket and was surprised to find out that the cameras could zoom in close enough to read people`s credit card numbers out of their hands.
`I don`t believe authorities know more about people than they used to in earlier days`
Most people do not seem to notice the number of cameras around. Neither do they seem to know who own them or who has access to the recordings. Popular guesses are the City Council, the police or the government. It doesn`t prevent people from feeling safer in the presence of video cameras. Katy (36) admits that society is moving in the direction of the 1984 scenario: `But as long as we do not have thought police, we will manage alright`. She blames the threat of terrorism as one of the main reasons why people are more willing to give in on their privacy and personal freedoms.
The dividing between privacy and law enforcement is the stake of a vivid debate. Some of the people I speak to would not mind if their phone conversations where tapped, others think that such a measure would be a bridge too far. Those opposing of eavesdropping claim that it would at least require somebody to be a suspect. Finger prints and DNA tests should also preferably be limited to people who are official suspects in criminal cases: a qualifications that CCTV cameras are not able to make.
While people may not notice the cameras, the cameras do notice the people. Fiona (27, photo) and Stewart (25) tell me about a documentary that was recently broadcast on TV. It showed a man walking around town, with every single one of his steps being traced by CCTV-cameras. In spite of that alarming precision, Fiona does not think that authorities know more about people than they used to in earlier days. Stewart has some more worries. He claims that it is at least a lot easier now to collect intelligence about individuals, almost regardless of whether the person doing the research is an intelligence agent, a police officer, a company or a private individual.
Access to information
Andy (26) finds it sad that Glasgow apparently needs the cameras. `In the unfavourable case that it doesn`t prevent crime, it at least helps solve criminal cases.` However, he thinks that retailers and marketing organisations actually know more about people than the police or intelligence services: institutions that he calls possibly `stupid` and `inefficient`, but not corrupt.
While Andy feels confident about the authorities treating his information in the right way, most people have very little faith in the way the authorities treat their personal data. Their acceptance of the cameras and other increased security measures is driven by indifference. Over the whole, they seem to prefer not to know how easily they can be followed, and where the information goes.
Only London can compete with Glasgow in terms of the number of CCTV cameras. It may lead visitors to think that Glasgow is an unsafe city, but Kenneth (25) explains that overall safety in Glasgow is reasonable. `There are some rough areas here and there`, he says. But even he, despite his non-local accent, has never experienced severe trouble.
He tells me the recipe for staying out of trouble. Drawing attention to yourself is not advisable. Doing so, especially at night time and in the typical working class areas, may alert youngsters who are looking for fights. They are oftentimes driven by boredom rather than financial interest, and alcohol consumption often adds to the likelihood of trouble. Stabbings take place every now and then, but hardly ever without a precedent. Avoiding arguments is advisable, just like wearing the football shirts in some areas or venues. In the uneventful case that something bad happens, the cameras did not fulfil their preventive job - they will however help the authorities identify and trial your aggressors.
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