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article imageOp-Ed: Should we learn to live with Total Surveillance?

By Alexander Baron     Mar 6, 2013 in Politics
One of the biggest worries of civil liberties groups over many decades has been the development of a total surveillance state. But there are benefits too, and total surveillance works both ways.
If you haven't read George Orwell's classic 1984, you can now read that and all his other books for free. In Orwell's dystopia, everybody who was anybody was monitored by the state round the clock by video and audio, even in their own homes.
Since the development of cheap CCTV, this sort of total surveillance has become increasingly common, nowhere more so than in the UK. Before the end of 1996 there were over three thousand closed circuit television schemes in cities, towns and some villages throughout Britain, mostly in non-residential areas. Then there are other forms of monitoring. Although drones are used to kill terrorists (read execute alleged terrorists without due process and anyone else who happens to get in the way), they are being used increasingly for civil purposes. Then there is all manner of other monitoring, including of our e-mails.
What is to be done about this? What can be done? What should be done? How about nothing? Well, surely you don't want the state planting cameras and listening devices in your home, in your car? Maybe? Evidence gathered from this sort of surveillance was used recently to convict a terror cell in Britain.
Yeah, but you still wouldn't want cameras in your home. Right? No? Check this out.
And this. Don't worry if you don't speak the language, the video speaks for itself.
Here is another video of a nanny abusing a baby. Be warned, this is not for the squeamish.
Not only are people installing cameras in their own homes, but both CCTV and covert surveillance have a bona fide role in both fighting and discouraging crime.
An undercover operation by the BBC led to the conviction of care workers for abusing their vulnerable charges in the Winterbourne View scandal. And many high profile crimes, including terror attacks and murders, have been solved partly or entirely due to CCTV.
The killers Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were brought to book by CCTV. Cameras played a role in the conviction of Levi Bellfield, the psycho who stalked the streets of South London where he murdered two young women and nearly killed a third. Here is a video of a young woman trying to smother her own baby. It goes on and on. Yes, Big Brother is watching us, but we are watching him too.
If this new age of Big Brother watching has a date of birth, it is March 3, 1991 when police in Los Angeles stopped motorist Rodney King. King was speeding, he was high on drugs, he was a convicted felon, and he did resist arrest after a fashion, but if you haven't seen it, check out this classic video, and ask yourself if anyone should treat a dog like this.
This video was shot by amateur cameraman George Holliday. In the two decades and more since, everyone is an amateur cameraman, which means not only do we never know who is watching but they never know who is watching. And guess what, they don't like it. The latest video of extreme police brutality is from South Africa. This poor guy was murdered over a traffic dispute.
Here is an assault that stopped short of murder. And here is another one that didn't.
In London, this shove led to the death of a sick man, although the uniformed thug who pushed him over was acquitted of manslaughter.
The police are not always unhappy with cameras watching them. Here is one reason. And here is another. In spite of what certain gullible people claim, false allegations of sexual assault and even of rape are extremely common, as is playing the race card.
It is not only those who work in law enforcement who are subject to such scrutiny. Official e-mails and other publications are routinely monitored and collected. Many government, including the British and American governments, now disclose enormous amounts of information to their citizens, most of which is only a mouse click or two away.
Of course, there are some things that should remain confidential and unmonitored - medical records, for example.
In the three quarters of a century since its publication, George Orwell's 1984 has sadly proved more prophetic than alarmist, but the silver lining is that though our masters are watching us, we are watching them too. Some people would consider that trade-off worthwhile.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Big brother, CCTV, total surveillance, Drones, rodney king
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