BIG BROTHER….Liz Mair writes about the 4.2 million closed-circuit TV cameras now operating in Great Britain:

One of the things I hated most about living in London was the sense that I was under constant watch by the “authorities.”….A lot of my “national security”-focused friends tell me that my hatred for, and suspicion of, CCTV is mindless since I’m not a criminal, and I have nothing to fear. That may be so, but nonetheless, I feel that constant surveillance is an infringement and that very often, in fact it leads to the “authorities” being inundated with so much information that they cannot process it — and big costs which frequently are not met.

My question is a little different. I don’t have firm figures in front of me, but in London at least, the number of CCTV cameras has skyrocketed and the crime rate has skyrocketed. If the cameras genuinely helped put muggers and rapists behind bars, we might have a robust discussion about whether the additional safety justifies the loss of privacy. But if the city is no safer than it used to be, what’s the point? If it’s just to snap license plate pictures of cars that are illegally parked, that hardly seems worth it.

Anyway, this is a topic of frequent discussion in Britain, and the consensus of research so far seems to suggest that CCTV has, at most, only a very modest impact on crime rates. If any of my more knowledgable commenters want to chime in on this, I’d be interested in hearing more. For now, though, it seems like CCTV provides pretty low bang for the buck.

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