I had written a short introductory note on a web page titled "Looking for Allies to Resist the New World Order" in which I mentioned that I was told by a couple of people from London that loudspeakers had been installed along with the ubiquitous CCTV cameras seen everywhere in London. I received three e-mails from an English man named "Jim" who was convinced that my claims were unfounded:
I look forward to receiving a fourth e-mail from "Jim" with his hat in his hand and a sizeable bite taken out of same, otherwise I might be tempted to publish his full name and e-mail address in addition to his skeptical comments. ...Ken Adachi
THEY'RE WATCHING: A wall of video monitors showing live images from closed circuit television cameras (CCTV) installed in central London. Britain has the highest number of CCTV cameras -- about one for every 14 people.
It has the world's widest public CCTV surveillance system. Many don't mind it, but activists fear the state is turning into Big Brother.
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 19, 2007
Gloucester, England Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis / The Associated Press
It used to be that troublemakers could lounge on the planters outside the McDonald's here and pick apart the geraniums to their hearts' content.
A Polish immigrant hamburger salesman might complain -- as if! -- or someone's grandma would tell the offending group of hoodlums to knock it off, if she dared. These days, Big Brother does the job.
The closed-circuit television camera lurking just down the street from the fast-food restaurant bellows menacingly at the first sign of danger to the flora, or a cast-off cigarette butt or fast-food wrapper, for that matter. "Pick it up," commands a booming voice from . . . where, exactly?
The CCTV cameras in Gloucester and several other British towns now come equipped with speakers, meaning Big Brother is not only watching, he's telling you what to do.
"When people hear that, they tend to react. They pick up the litter and put it in the bin," said Mick Matthews, assistant chief police constable in this old cathedral city of 110,000 in the rolling Cotswold hills.
For all the increased anti-terrorism security measures in the U.S., there is probably no society on Earth more watched than Britain.
By some estimates, 4.2 million CCTV cameras, or one for every 15 people, quietly, and sometimes not so quietly, monitor the comings and goings of almost everyone -- an average person is caught on camera up to 300 times a day.
Thanks in part to Britain's long history of terrorist attacks by the Irish Republican Army, some early, high-profile law enforcement successes helped imprint the potential benefits of closed-circuit television on the popular imagination. With more than $200 million in funding since 1999, CCTV was a fixture in British cities long before attacks by Islamic militants began prompting governments around the world to step up surveillance of their populations.
Cameras are fixed on lampposts and on street corners, above sidewalks, in subways, on buses, in taxis, in stores, over the parking lots, in mobile police vans, and in some cities, even perched in the hats of police officers walking their beats.
Surprisingly clear images of Britons engaged in apparently nefarious activities have become a staple on the evening news; few of the country's many terrorism trials unfold without the jury being presented with multiple images of the defendants purportedly carrying backpack bombs or driving up to a storehouse of explosives.
Pub patrons in one town last year had their fingerprints scanned as they walked in (bringing up their criminal records on a computer screen); some cities are considering putting electronic chips in household trash cans to measure output; a toll-free "smoke-free compliance line" takes snitch reports on violators of the new national ban on smoking in public places.
The DNA profile of every person arrested -- even those briefly detained for, say, loitering, and released without charge -- is on file in what is believed to be, per capita, the largest such database in the world, with 3.9 million samples. It includes the genetic markings of an estimated 40% of Britain's black male population.
For the majority of Britons, polls show, there is nothing at all wrong with much of this monitoring.
"I didn't know the camera was even up there until it started talking," said Clive Anthony, who blinked and twirled for a moment one recent afternoon in downtown Gloucester when the CCTV camera started barking at something. "I haven't got a problem with it, basically. To my mind, if you're doing what you're supposed to be doing and going about your business, just because somebody's watching that, it's not taking anything away from me."
Public acceptance of closed-circuit television skyrocketed after the murder of toddler James Bulger near Liverpool in 1993. In CCTV footage that shocked the country, the killers, a pair of 10-year-old boys, were shown leading the trusting 2-year-old away from a shopping center.
"The last known sighting of this boy was on CCTV. And there was this kind of iconic image that was used to say, 'If we had more CCTV, we would be more likely to spot horrible crimes like this,' " said Kirstie Ball, an expert on surveillance systems at Open University Business School in Milton Keynes. "It got to a point where if you were opposing CCTV, you were in favor of child murder."
But a growing number of people, including some police officers and the country's information commissioner, are beginning to wonder whether Britain isn't watching itself too closely.
"Local communities are pushing very powerfully for closed-circuit television. What they say is, I may live in this little village that has no history of violent crime, but I'll feel safer if I've got CCTV," said Ian Readhead, deputy chief constable of the Hampshire police, who recently warned that Britain risks "an Orwellian situation with cameras on every street corner."
"Suppose Mr. Brand is seen walking down the local street with Mrs. Wight. 'What's that about?' someone will ask. And in a village environment, it begins to cause a rumor, it begins to cause intrigue," he said in an interview. "You really only want to deploy this kind of equipment when you have clear knowledge of an identifiable situation, and when you've achieved your objectives, you want to take it down."
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