Monday, November 04, 2002

Something that has not come up at length in the disussion of London's "Big Brother is Watching You" signs is a discussion of just why the British became so fond of Closed Circuit Television cameras in the first place. It was, of course, as a response to terrorism. London was a target of a great many IRA bombs in the 1980s and early 1990s (to an extent that people who didn't live here generally didn't realise), and London was rebuilt in a way that was defensive against terrorism as a consequence. We got CCTV, the removal of rubbish bins, redesign of traffic conditions to keep cars away from strategic buildings. If you go to the modern office buildings at Canary Wharf , it is a fortress. You cannot drive anywhere near them, there is no parking underneath them, there are cameras everywhere. It is probably safe, but very sterile. I do not want the office buildings of New York to turn into fortresses, but with more attacks it is fairly close to inevitable that they will.

In the worst case scenario where terrorism becomes a much greater problem throughout the developed world, it may be that poorer countries turn into Turkey, with semi-permanent and fairly arbitrary military rule, and richer countries turn into Singapore, with invasive and intrusive security and violations of civil liberties. Neither of these options is especially attractive to me. The excuse that is now made is that the CCTV cameras are about protecting people from crime, something at which I think they are not terribly effective. (The crime simply takes place somewhere else). The puzzle is why the British authorities seem to think that people will be glad that their liberties are being eroded. I am not glad myself.

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