Tuesday, June 09, 2009

UK’s Big Brother May Come to Canada

Thanks to the constantly shrinking global village we live in, I was able to catch a cool BBC documentary the other day, called “Who’s Watching You?”

This was the first of a series of programs currently running in the United Kingdom, about the constantly increased use of Closed Circuit Television (CCT) security cameras.

CCT security cameras are nothing new to most of us – banks have used them for years to deter robberies, they are present in most banking machines and many offices and government buildings have these things to capture would-be crooks in the action.

CCT security cameras are used along our expressways to – and carried live on many popular television morning shows, to help us with our daily drive into work.
But in the United Kingdom, according to the show, they have the most advanced CCT security camera network in the world.

At first, I thought it was just typical posturing – but after watching the first episode, I understood it is more about fear.

Not only do they use security cameras in the UK to deter thieves, they use them for far more Big Brotherish reasons. In one scene, the host of the show, Richard Bilton, walks down a seemingly quaint boardwalk, and drops a candy bar wrapper on the ground. Suddenly, a voice from nowhere informs him that his illegal littering has been caught on camera, and politely asks him to pick up the litter and put it into the trash bin just a few feet away. The voice reminds him that if he doesn’t there is fine, and as his actions have been caught on camera, he should comply.

Pretty scary stuff, now not only can the powers that be see you, they can order you to do whatever they want as well.

Another scene shows how all the UK CCT security cameras along the major highways are connected to a computer database, and within two-seconds of driving past one of these cameras, it has already compared the license plate on the car to all the ones in the database of wanted criminals. And we’re not talking about just big player criminals – if you’ve got anything from outstanding parking tickets, to littering in a public place, they can now quickly find you and make you pay. The police in the UK even setup roadside stops, where they have mobile CCT cameras mounted on vans down the road. The camera runs license plates of all passing vehicles, and when one is flagged for whatever reason, the operator calls to the police at the checkpoint, and those police then stop the vehicle, and make the arrest.

Bilton reminds us that these recorded license plates are kept on file for two-years – so at the time of your drive-by, you may be innocent. But forget to pay that parking ticket, and the next time you hit the highway, you could be taken down at gunpoint, handcuffed, and stuffed in the back of a police car.

CCT security cameras are used for surveillance here in Canada too. In Canada’s biggest city, Toronto, there are cameras watching passers-by in the entertainment district, and near major attractions like the CNTower and the Eaton Centre.

So far, these cameras are only used for catching criminals in the act, and as a deterrent. But if what is going on down in the UK is any indication of what the future holds, these cameras could eventually be part of a much more scary story.

It is a story of time, when everyone is so paranoid about the world, that Big Brother is called in to keep the peace. The problem with George Orwell’s version of peace, is eventually no one trusts anyone else, and society falls apart because good honest people do horribly dishonest things, just to survive. And that is one story I hope to never live through.

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