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Related post: are some) might seem a bit humdrum if you had to endure them day after
day, night after night. It must be much the same with other forms of
surveillance. As a journalist friend, who once lived with his young
family in an apartment in China that was undoubtedly bugged, put it:
Who's going to separate the hours of potty-training talk from the few
potentially valuable snippets of conversation? Just imagine the lot of
the poor Chinese spying flunky, dedicating every minute of his working
life to tuning in to the messy minutiae of my colleague's life.
Practicality aside, the philosophical argument over privacy
essentially bit the dust in Britain more than a decade ago when some
unforgettable footage made people I know put aside any reservations
they'd had . Recorded at 15:39 on Feb. 12, 1993, and later broadcast
nationwide, a grainy CCTV picture showed a trusting toddler taking a
stranger by the hand and being led out of a Liverpool shopping center.
Just days later, 2-year-old Jamie Bulger was found bludgeoned to death
on a railway track, bringing horror to the nightly news programs. The
camera hadn't prevented the crime, but its imperfect images allowed
the police to measure the comparative heights of the child and his
abductors. Without them, the police might have been looking for a very
different kind of culprit from the two 11-year-old boys who were later
convicted in the toddler's murder.
"The Jamie Bulger case was a sea change over here," Peter Fry told me.
Fry, who is director of Britain's CCTV User Group, a 600-member
association of Sevelamer Hydrochloride Tablets organizations including local councils and universities
that use closed-circuit cameras, says that many people in Britain no
longer see the technology as Big Brother but "as a benevolent father."
You might expect Fry, in his position, to say that. But in my recent
visits to Britain, I've rarely heard people raise objections to CCTV
(except-- vociferously -- to the cameras set up to catch speeding
motorists; the equipment often ends up being vandalized). And Fry
points out that although the technology creates miles of useless
footage, it can actually economize on police time. He described to me
a pub brawl that ended in a knifing. Thirty people were involved, he
said, and the police would have had to take and sift through 30
witness statements, filtering out the effects of inebriation as they
divined the truth from 30 differing perspectives. Instead, a half-hour
videotape showed just who slit whose throat.
The philosophical underpinnings for CCTV observation lie in the ideas
of Britain's 18th-century legal theorist Jeremy Bentham. He had a sort
of God's-eye view of moral reform, believing that if people thought
they were being watched, they'd probably shape up. Inspired by his
brother's effort to design a factory where large numbers of unskilled
workers could be supervised by a skilled few, Bentham came up with the
concept of a "panopticon" -- a prison where criminals could be watched
without knowing exactly when, thus conveying the discomfiting
"sentiment of an invisible omniscience." "The more constantly the
persons to be inspected are under the eyes of the persons who should
inspect them," wrote Bentham, "the more Buy Sevelamer Hydrochloride perfectly will the purpose of
these establishments have been attained." Bentham's theories are
reflected in the design of Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary,
where prisoners were left to reflect upon their sins in cells
radiating out from a central observation point.
Over the past decade, London has become a kind of urban panopticon,
though it's not clear that the constant possibility of being observed
has led to better behavior (Britons hardly being the very model of
modern moral rectitude). But Fry argues that CCTV indeed deters
certain kinds of planned crime (like car theft), even if it doesn't do
much to deter spontaneous eruptions (like the pub brawl). And it
probably displaces some other kinds of crime (which presents its own
moral conundrums, but I hope you won't think me un-neighborly in my
wish that the burglars who broke into my mother's house might be
displaced -- and choose the big house up the lane next time around).
Americans are, comparatively speaking, camera shy. Of course, video
surveillance is widely used in supermarkets and hotel lobbies, but
when Washington installed cameras on the Mall in 2002, the questions
sparked by civil liberties groups led to their use being strictly
regulated. Following the London bombings, though, D.C. Mayor Anthony
Williams called for more cameras in parks and commercial districts.
Other cities, like Baltimore, have taken advantage of federal
antiterrorism funds to increase their surveillance systems in the hope
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