You’re on camera…

The British love affair with CCTV means we are now the most filmed nation in Europe, with roughly one camera for every 14 people. I’m not a CCTV-phobe – in my time as a councillor, I sat on the regen board that introduced the first CCTV in Islington, and with my Lib Dem colleagues, voted for significant investment in more CCTV across the borough in later years. But I am a sceptic, in the sense that I don’t see CCTV as a universal cure for crime.

Even if it was desirable to have a camera on every corner, it’s unachievable; but the idea that CCTV is the only cure to problems of crime and anti-social behaviour can be a distraction from finding other solutions. CCTV is good in controlled spaces, less good in the open; good at detection, less good at deterrence.

Programmes from Crimewatch to Police, Camera, Action demonstrate that being filmed does not always deter crime. And even detection depends on what the camera sees; earlier this year my purse was stolen on a bus under the camera’s eye, but how to identify the thief when the bus was so crowded with jostling at every stop along the way.

Omnipresent CCTV must be a headache for crime writers. No mystery if the killer is caught on camera. I’m enjoying the new series of ‘Rebus’. Richard is a big fan, partly because Ian Rankin, and Rebus, are fellow Hibs fans. Last week’s episode included the death of a junior minister, during a trade summit (which rather improbably seemed to attract minimal press attention). Rebus enjoys taking on the establishment rather than being part of it. Anyway, without spoiling the plot, CCTV footage that could have shown one killing goes missing. The victim’s sister says she’s glad his death won’t ‘end up on YouTube’.

I don’t know if that line is a Rankin original, or if it was added for the TV version. Either way it was written before the horrific case of Anthony Anderson who was jailed last week for urinating on a dying woman, Christine Lakinski, while shouting “this is YouTube material“. Like happy-slapping, being on camera is integral to the crime; the offenders are, literally, shameless.  Another court case this month saw phone footage from one of the defendents used as evidence of alleged terrorist preparation.

If even the most serious criminals are happy to film themselves in the act, will all that public CCTV be redundant?

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