Friday, April 3, 2009

The Surveillance State

I've long been a vocal opponent of wide-spread surveillance cameras, as are all the rage in London. Even basic red-light cameras have been repeatedly demonstrated to be ineffectual at best to down right dangerous at worst. Most studies of CCTV cameras have shown little to no decrease in violent crime and are rarely useful for ex-post facto apprehension and conviction. So the reasons most often cited by supporters are largely bupkis. On balance, they appear to provide a slightly increased feeling of security, but little in the way of actual protection.

But recent events have convinced me otherwise. The one thing they do, however, is often catch police in the act and provide invaluable evidence of their malfeasence. Several recent cases have gone from a citizen's word against that of the officer's (which rarely turns out well for the citizen) to cases of clear-cut abuse and subversion of the legal system based on CCTV evidence. Similarly, cell phone cameras have also demonstrated their utility in demonstrating the bald-faced lies of those in power. But there aren't always other citizens and their phones to come to your aid. The CCTV footage belongs to us all. It might be Orwellian and ineffective at reducing crime, but it has already proved itself quite good at uncovering official misconduct that would otherwise go unrevealed. And we are all safer because of it.