Surveillance is a vast topic to try and consider in a short text. From the extensive databases of personal information to the complex, ever-changing technologies, CCTV (closed circuit television) is a fragment in this state surveyed culture, yet it is the visual side of spying on our lives that is encountered daily on the streets of Bristol. This will be the first in many texts looking at surveillance, from the drones during the Olympics to the relevance of surveillance during the Stokes Croft convictions.
Bristol is currently part of a surveillance culture in Britain that is out of control. Figures suggest that Britain is home to 20% of the world’s population of CCTV cameras, despite being home to just 1% of the world’s population: that’s 4.2 million cameras one for every 14 citizens.
CCTV spies on all that moves in its terrain. On every major road that enters Bristol and nearly every street corner, over 700 cameras trace and track us. They are a mechanism in a system of state control entwined with the police, media and the establishment they protect in order to create vast databases of suspects.
CCTV has become an unwanted normality on our streets. In London, studies suggest that you are caught on camera on average at least 300 times a day. However, surveillance by no means stops with the visual side of it; no part of dignity or privacy is left un-scrutinized. From your emails, phone calls, txt messages and social networking to the shops you spend money in, your bank accounts and where you draw money from, everything is watched, monitored and stored. From the collecting of this private information to the storage of it, it is a multi billion pound industry that is rapidly developing.
This year transport for London (tfl) released figures that clearly show how much CCTV is used for convictions. Tfl operates 82,826 CCTV cameras, yet only 8.4% of footage from these were used by police in the last twelve months. Also being backed up by the metropolitan polices’ own research that showed less than one conviction occurred for every 1000 cameras in the capital, even though in numerous cases hundreds of hours are presented as evidence. (Usually the quality of the cameras is not even good enough to identify the individual).
The industry of surveillance is a clear way of showing that what is imposed on society is only in the interests of the corporations and their behind-closed-doors relationships with the police. It reinforces a divide between the rich and the poor, the accused and the protected. It creates a nation of suspects integral to the role of policing, spreading the idea that security is imperative because everything is a threat.
The spread of surveillance will always be based on state interests; the interests of profit and control. The framework of surveillance cannot be reformed or changed to serve the dispossessed or their environments, It is inherently repressive and any attempt to do so will always reinforce capitalism and the state.
Every year new ways of spying and tracking are invented and sold. They become financially self-justified when targets are required in order to make more money in fines than their initial price as well as their operational costs. Having targets suggests the state uses surveillance without any rationale.
Private insurance is also a key driver in this intensification of surveillance, insofar as insurance companies increasingly demand that they install the most up to date surveillance equipment to even become insured. From one company to the next, from the police to government policies, alternating authorities merge into one. They indirectly control and shape individuals by directly controlling and shaping the environment in which they exist.
What is needed is a clear language of response and critique to these infrastructures. The recognition that these infrastructures are integral to keeping people silent towards the rich minority that control prisons, run banks, police borders and decide laws. CCTV surveillance will become more complex and widespread and the data banks will be shared wider, creating less and less gaps between the public and private framework, creating one huge database. This alongside the ever advancing quality and extent of surveillance, privacy and dignity is set to become even more of a distant dream.
Down with the system of social control! Down with this surveillance state!