surveillance

You get up early in the morning, shower, fix some breakfast and set off for another busy day. You live in the city, so your daily commute is a combination of some walking and mass transit (healthy and ecological). On the way to work you get your daily dose of caffeine and arrive at the office just in time for an early meeting and a hectic schedule.

You do lunch with an old friend at a nearby pub (their ploughman’s lunch is especially good) and then continue work until 5:30pm. Then you retrace your steps to go back home, but stop at the neighborhood supermarket for some minor shopping (some last-minute items that you need to cook dinner tonight).

When your spouse gets home, dinner is ready, and after a long conversation you settle for a quiet evening of reading a good book with a cup of steaming hot tea or maybe of watching your favorite TV show on Netflix. Sounds about average, right?

It probably is, but if you (are lucky enough to) live in the Greater London area, during that average day you will have been recorded about 300 times by CCTV cameras. Yes, you read right: 300 times. If you wonder how that is even possible, it is courtesy of the estimated 500,000 surveillance cameras in operation in the area.

Which means that someone with access to all those cameras can easily recreate your whole day, from the moment you left home early in the morning to the moment you got back home late in the evening. Almost to the minute: what part of your commute you did on foot, where you took the train, where you stopped for coffee, where you had lunch, where you stopped for groceries… everything.

Of course, not all those CCTV cameras are operated by the police or other law-enforcement agencies: many can be found in all kinds of places –from ATMs to coffee shops to supermarkets to apartment buildings. Even if those cameras are not there to watch you, they do. And even if they are not operated by the authorities, these can access those feeds rather easily -sometimes even without a court-issued warrant under the grounds of necessity (usually applying anti-terrorism legislation).

But you don’t live in the Greater London area, so you think you are okay, right? Think again, because that situation is not unique to London: the total number of cameras in the UK is estimated to be around 4,200,000 -which means that in the UK there is one camera for every 14 people.

In that context, as Mandy Stadtmiller wrote in Daily Beast, you should always assume that you are being secretly recorded. Always. Because if all those CCTV cameras were not enough, you need to add all the recording devices now widely available -from car dash cams to sports action cameras to drone-mounted cameras to police body cameras.

Oh, I forgot the cameras and microphones in our smartphones… and there are over 1 billion of those currently in use world wide (and growing), so there is no escaping this surveillance dystopia -far beyond anything Big Brother could have possibly desired in George Orwell’s 1984.

Funny enough, all that surveillance not only makes us less free -it also makes us less safe: since effective data analysis takes time and energy, our safety should not depend on the amount of data collected, but rather on the quality of the data collected. Here, as in many other realms, less is more -so we should resist (not urge) those policies of mass surveillance. Remember, not only our freedoms but also our safety are at stake.


Additional watching: Erasing Your DNA https://youtu.be/MoX_BDWZUG0

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