The article gives a glimpse of the sophisticated CCTV system in central London operated by Westminster Council, from the basement of the Trocadero shopping centre by Piccadilly, and a history of the growth of CCTV usage in the UK.
The article rightly draws attention to the links between voyeuristic popular culture and the passive acquiescence of much of the public to being under surveillance, even if this does not actually make them any safer in practice.
The turning point was the abduction and murder of James Bulger in 1993.
The infamous grainy CCTV image of the ten-year-olds Robert Thompson and Jon Venables leading the trusting toddler by the hand from a Liverpool shopping centre was broadcast around the nation, and subsequently the world
If you think about it, such CCTV still images actually show how useless CCTV is at deterring or preventing major crimes - if members of the public who passed close by the tragic trio of children in the Merseyside shopping centre did not suspect that anything was wrong, how exactly are CCTV operators ever meant to do so, even with today's higher resolution cameras ?
The increase in capabilities and reduction in the price of CCTV surveillance technology in recent years, has made it attractive for opportunistic politicians to Be Seen To Be Doing Something about street crimes, by pretending to tackle some of the symptoms of crime, without actually having to make the harder policy and budget decisions, which tackle
the causes of crimes.
Brown and his team control 160 cameras, covering locations across the borough: the West End, Belgravia, the Golden Jubilee Bridges, Trafalgar Square, Knightsbridge and the full length of Oxford Street. The cameras are monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year - "Yep, even Christmas Day," says Brown.
The control centre is, bizarrely, registered as a charitable trust, and is funded by Westminster City Council, the Metropolitan Police and private businesses. Since becoming operational in 2002, the control room has recorded 24,000 "incidents", ranging from (in Brown's categories) "low-level" graffiti, fly-tipping and public urinating to "high-level" robbery, drug dealing and prostitution. It has also had 5,000 visitors from more than 30 countries whose governments or police forces are looking to adopt similar systems. Britain used to export textiles, iron, steel and pop music; now it exports Orwellian methods for monitoring the masses.
However, the figures quoted for this well funded, well managed, properly maintained successful showcase Westminster Council CCTV scheme, only represent a small fraction of the actual number of crimes committed in the area over that time period.
There is so much CCTV video footage potentially available, that it is now a major drain on police manpower resources.
This results in recorded CCTV (as opposed to "live" remote interventions by CCTV control room operatives) being virtually ignored as "too expensive to analyse", except for major criminal investigations for terrorism or murder etc. see "A case of Can't Cope TV - Police do not have time to analyse video of burglary"
Most CCTV cameras are not as well funded or operated to such professional standards as the Westminster Council scheme, therefore the potential for abuse of privacy is even greater, and the effectiveness against crime, is even less.
Under the tyrannical gaze of today's CCTV, none of us is really free. Instead, we live in a permanent state of parole, where we must walk, talk and act in a certain way, or risk having our collars felt by a cop or council official alerted by the spies behind the cameras. It is time we took some action against these Peeping Toms of officialdom, and told them to switch off their spycams.
CCTV surveillance systems have their place in modern society, but we currently have no effective legal protection from the abuse of such powerful technologies, which are now so widespread that they are impossible to be fully used by the Police, due to the sheer volume of unregulated CCTV images which has to be trawled through.