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Student Contributions

Katie James
Upper Sixth
Worcester House



Big Brother is watching you and you and you and me for that matter! Big Brother — that invisible yet ever present ‘icon’ who watches our every move, immortalised by the author George Orwell in his novel ‘1984’. And here we are years later and it’s all come true. But is there too much surveillance in the UK today? I don’t think so!

Let’s be clear about what the word surveillance means. The Oxford English dictionary defines it as: ‘the observation of a person who is suspected of being engaged in criminal activity’.

There are a number of ways that surveillance measures are used to protect us. The use of CCTV cameras is just one type and perhaps the most obvious. Recently there has been an increasing amount of negative press about the use of surveillance, and perhaps quite rightly. In the UK today there is one CCTV camera for every fourteen members of the public. However I would like to offer a contrasting view to that of the media. Maybe surveillance is a good thing? Surely it is better to be a statistic showing up on a camera than being a statistic having had your house burgled? I’m sure that Madeline McCann’s parents would have given anything for there to have been CCTV cameras in place in the Portuguese resort where Madeline went missing.

The thirst for other forms of surveillance including the DNA database, identity cards and the monitoring of telephone, email and post has been steadily increasing, but this is a result of increasing crime rates. Criminals are becoming more sophisticated. Surveillance measures always need to be one step ahead. It was in response to IRA bombings that the UK rolled out widescale surveillance operations. And, of course, the fall out from 9/11 means that security and surveillance issues have become a major concern for the UK, and incidents such as the 7/7 London bombings reinforce the need for continued vigilance. Drug dealing, prostitution, child abuse, terrorism — when police fight these types of crime, is surveillance justified? I believe it is. Surveillance will play an important part in the smooth running and success of the London 2012 Olympics. There will be huge pressure on the powers that be, that these games take place without any hiccups. Surveillance will play a key role.

I think that it is inevitable that as levels of surveillance increase, an individual’s privacy will, to an extent, be compromised. But that, I’m afraid, is the price which we have to pay for the improved level of security and crime detection that surveillance brings. Privacy is a topic we all feel strongly about. We may have concerns about the emergence of the surveillance state, yet we demand that the wrong doers and terrorists are identified and apprehended before they can do mischief. Everything comes at a price and I’m sure that those who lost loved ones in 7/7 for example would agree that you can’t put a price on life. In my view, big brother should be seen as an uncle and not an enemy. Let’s look at it in a simple light for a moment; if you’re an innocent, law abiding citizen, then surely there is nothing to fear? Furthermore, with all the information which we all publish about ourselves on facebook these days, loosing privacy thanks to today’s technology should hardly provoke such controversy, especially as it serves a purpose; to keep us all safe.

Surveillance is only part of the way we can fight crime, it is merely part of the bigger picture — it’s not faultless and it is certainly not the answer to everything. Let’s face it even with the 4.2 million cameras they still haven’t found Lord Lucan and there’s still no sign of that race horse Shergar, is there?! And surveillance can have some unusual effects on people. Just take my mum … over half-term we were staying in London and she was hugely worried having heard she may be caught on camera hundreds of times. It took her ages to decide what to wear and she was constantly reapplying her lip gloss to make sure she looked her best for each and every camera!

Finally, let’s put surveillance into perspective — who would not be concerned if your car was vandalised? Who would not be concerned if a close friend or relative was beaten up because of unprovoked violence? Who would not be concerned if a gang of terrorists moved in next door to you? We should be glad that police, who have a duty to protect us, have surveillance to help them solve these crimes. We should be glad that legislation has been put into place to protect us. We should be glad that surveillance is working.

10 November 2010

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