Thursday, May 15, 2008
Watching Big Brother on the Bus
When I used to get a bus to and from school there were certain things one might have wanted to keep hidden from prying eyes. For the fortunate few it might be getting to know better a girl from the next village. For the rest of us it was more likely just the cards we were holding at whist.
Fortunately, in those days, what passed for surveillance was carried out by an old man named Percy who rode the bus trying – and failing - to maintain order among fifty rowdy kids. Ungoverned spaces flourished.
Fast forward to the present and woe-be-tide anyone with anything to hide on the new 102 to Edmonton Green. It positively bristles with cameras; no fewer than nine providing complete coverage of the passengers and their antics. Count them for yourself.
Of course cameras have been fitted on London buses for years now. They played a crucial role in tracking down two of the failed bombers who struck the capital on July 21st, 2005.
But what’s striking about the new technology is the fact that passengers can now watch the images from the nine cameras on two screens, one on each deck. And the quality of those images is very impressive.
The screen cycles through the shots on a never-ending loop, in the same way any other CCTV circuit does. The difference of course is that it’s not just one man behind a closed door keeping an eye over it. Pretty much everyone on the bus can monitor the behaviour of fellow passengers.
There is something rather voyeuristic, even depressing, about staring at the screen as it cycles away. It all feels like a particularly dreary episode of Big Brother. Perversely it also feels more intrusive to know the whole bus is watching me, as I watch them; even though it’s surely much more democratic to be surveilled by everyone rather than by a single faceless stranger.
One unambiguously positive element to this does, however, suggest itself. If we really are going to live in a society where CCTV cameras proliferate then we surely want to see some pay-off in terms of preventing crime and prosecuting criminals. Last week, as Paula wrote in an earlier entry, it emerged that at least one senior police officer at the Met believed CCTVs had been an “utter fiasco,” due in large part to the fact that criminals, and presumably everyone else as well, assume the cameras aren’t working.
Sitting on the 102 as it crawls its way through north London, I can confirm that the cameras most assuredly are working. And, though I’d be foolish to say it proves a link, I can report that everyone’s behaving themselves.
By Andrew Carey
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