My colleagues in the security business inform me that the United Kingdom is now the most constantly and thoroughly surveilled country on earth. Cameras provide continuous coverage of the centers of most cities and there is monitoring of all major roads and bridges by CCTV linked to monitors that can send one a ticket automatically if the speed limit is exceeded and can also automatically convict you of more serious driving offenses.
The BBC is currently reporting the disappearance of Claudia Lawrence. Lawrence was working as a chef at a university in York when she disappeared two weeks ago. The BBC report included the following: “It was initially thought Miss Lawrence had disappeared after setting off on the three-mile walk from her home to work the following morning. But she does not appear on any CCTV footage from her normal route.”
On the basis of the CCTV, the police ruled out her having walked to work, which means that they were able to reconstruct a three mile route through the city and were reasonably sure that they had not missed Lawrence on the CCTV footage. That the police would be able to do that and no one bats an eyelash over it for privacy reasons is astonishing to me and I must admit I did a double take when I read the BBC account. Many jurisidictions in the US now employ traffic cameras, mostly at stop lights, but this is several generations beyond that kind of intrusion, which is bad enough. It is reminiscent of Winston Smith in 1984 whose television was watching him while he was doing exercises in front of it. Maybe George Orwell knew what was coming.
How do the British people like the surveillance state? Well, maybe some of them don’t. I was watching the BBC automobile show Top Gear last week when one of the drivers began to complain about the four ranks of cameras perched menacingly along Putney bridge. He then described how they can be disabled using a strip of plastic wrap strategically placed which causes the camera’s focus mechanism to malfunction. He recommended the technique because the plastic wrap has survivability, i.e. because it is transparent it is unlikely to be noticed by passing police and removed. Some drivers apparently have been disabling the cameras using cans of spray paint.