Saturday, 18 September 2010

More CCTV surveillance? Not in my back yard, thanks

Alex Deane, Director of Big Brother Watch, recently told me that, unbelievably, there are more CCTV cameras in the Shetland Islands than there are in the city of San Francisco.

Well, after a few days walking around this wonderful city, I can attest that there must be many more CCTV cameras in Reading than there are, here, in Rome. According to Wikkipedia, Reading has 142,851 citizens, while Rome has (accordind to last year's official figures) 2,726,927.

Why might a city 20 times smaller than Rome need more CCTV cameras? It’s really hard to argue that there must be more to steal in Reading, or that there is a pressing need to prevent vandalism.

Could it be that we have just gone totally over the top on video surveillance?

Walking around Rome, it really did not occur to me that the absence of CCTV surveillance was goading its citizens to behave in ever more feral ways. Indeed, walking around the Fountains of Trevi, or the Spanish Steps, or along the banks of the Tiber, I felt no sense of danger nor unease. Neither from the barbarians, nor the Barberini. And I find it hard to understand how CCTV cameras back in Blighty bestow an additional sense of corporate or social responsibility into anyone. They create good images for the TV programmes that will gratefully rebroadcast the best bits, but I find it hard to understand how effective it’s actually been in preventing the unsociable behaviour from occurring in the first place.

We Brits may just be bred like this. The Italians (and the fellow tourists I encountered) just seem to be beter behaved. Their "cultoral norms", for whatever reason, don't appear to be our "cultural norms".

So, if the greatly anticipated “savage” cuts in public expenditure result in the decommissioning of many thousands of local authority CCTV surveillance initiatives, will I be manning the “Keep CCTV in my Borough” barriers? I think not. Well, not until I’ve been viciously mugged in the full glare of one, anyway.