Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Don't fear the CCTV - fear the camera phone

Britain is renowned to have more CCTV cameras than any other country in Europe. Therefore, many people feel that we are constantly under surveillance, by the police, the government, etc. But recent events have left me wondering whether in fact that surveillance is a lot closer to home.

Recently a woman made it into the news when her swearing and hurling racial insults at a group of passengers on a tram was captured by someone on a mobile phone and then uploaded to YouTube. Within hours the video had had multiple hits and was being publicised via twitter. The incident was probably more shocking because of the young toddler she had on her lap.

Subsequent to this, other similar incidents have been made public in the same way, the latest of which being a man on a train who had allegedly failed to pay the fare for the journey, had refused to get off at the next stop, so another passenger had physically removed him.

Generally, we all know where the CCTV cameras are. We don’t necessarily avoid them, but as a rule, if you’re in town causing trouble there’s probably a fair chance you’re going to be captured on CCTV and held accountable for your actions. But being captured on CCTV only means that the camera operators and perhaps the law enforcers are going to know who you are and what you’ve done, being captured on CCTV isn’t going to earn you national (or perhaps even international) infamy. But being captured on someone’s camera phone might.

Nowadays most mobile phones have cameras, and video capabilities. This means that any event can be videoed by anyone at any time, and once that happens there’s no knowing where it might end up.

We don’t know where the camera phones are. We don’t know who has one (well actually we can generally assume that most people do have one) but we don’t know who is using one at any time and if so, what they intend to do with the footage.

Of course most people are law-abiding citizens who wouldn’t think to behave in the manner of the individuals mentioned above. However even being a law-abiding citizen doesn’t mean that you are immune from being captured on camera at your worst moments, on a drunken night out with friends; having an argument in the street with your partner; shouting at your kids when they’re having a tantrum, and that footage being uploaded to YouTube and sent via twitter to as many people as are prepared to retweet it. And because that footage is generally condensed into a couple of minutes maximum, people only get a snapshot view of that part of your life, and then make their judgements accordingly.

As it happens, the man in the train video has since spoken out saying that while he accepted his language against the conductor was wrong, he had bought the wrong ticket and wasn't given the chance to state his case before being thrown off the train. Meanwhile the man who threw him off was branded a hero. And all the million or so people who have seen the clip have to go on is a two minute or so snapshot into what happened. We don't know what happened before, we can only judge on the events captured on film.

And the more of these incidents are posted online, the more people are going to film every little event, in the hope of capturing something that might earn them a few thousand hits on YouTube. No longer is it possible to view an event in your life as something that just happened and can be forgotten, when you have no idea who might have filmed it and whether it is at this very moment being tweeted up and down the country and across the globe.

Generally, the CCTV is there to act in the interests of the public.

The camera phone is there to feed the interest of the individual, and potentially, the world.

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