Wednesday, 18 November 2009

CCTV Game Show

One more step on the inevitable convergence of surveillance and entertainment just kicked off! Sign up with Internet Eyes and you could become an armchair crime spotter and win £1000 a month! Hell, that's more than a part-time community constable gets!

Registration for cyber-vigilantes is free, so I guess the company makes its money from the owners of the cameras - most CCTV cameras are privately owned (shops, factories and offices, all the cameras in shopping malls and retail/business parks like Canary Wharf) so I guess that's who'll be paying the bills here. Old Raj in the offy over the road can now have someone making sure that no one's jamming short-dated Mr Kipling's up their parka or swiping cans of white lightning.

The BBC reported on this in October, and naturally roped in some anti-surveillance wingnut to chew off a sound bite about it. There's a lot of crazy shrill nonsense written about surveillance and all that crapola in the UK. Take a look at this sober assessment of a plan to monitor the behaviour of problem families that appeared in the corporate cyber-libertarian propaganda rag Wired. There're enough scare quotes there to give Jon Gaunt post-traumatic stress.

Now, the guy here totally got the wrong end of the stick, but there's a tone of desperate desire to believe in the evil of civil-liberties destorying Britain in his grumpy retraction. How long do you think he's been waiting to use that Orwell image? (And the original story came from the Express, for heaven's sake, which is the newspaper equivalent of your creepy conspiracy-obsessed friend, right down to the ads for creepy porn in the back; it's like taking off the top of his skull and looking inside. I mean, you DO have a friend like that don't you? Maybe it's just me...)

Anyway, I think there's a a sea change in our lives going on, where CCTV and reality TV and life blogging are going to meet up and change the way we live in the urbanised world. As technology zooms ahead the tools for snooping will only get more sophisticated; I don't think there's any way to stop a determined spy getting any of your details they want, and it'll only get easier and easier. No more copies of Razzle jammed down the back of the bedstead, no more empty doughnut box surreptitiously hidden beneath the potato peelings in the bin, no more discrete affairs with her next door with the missus is at her book club. All this stuff will be out in the open, and we'll either have to live up to myths we make about ourselves or (much easier, I think!) learn some humility and admit our foibles.

More seriously, of course, no more back-room deals, no more dodgy corporate corruption, no more abuse behind closed doors. In the perfect open society, information radiates out to everyone. There is a real problem of power and elites, of course that gets obscured by civil liberties knee jerkers, one that's tied up with rather boring and old fashioned socialistic ideas of money, power and the state. This is problem of politics, though, not the concept of surveillance itself. The accumulation of power and creation of elites an eternal problem, to which there's no single answer but, as the man said, eternal vigilance. This technology is coming regardless, and the question is, how do we make sure that we can turn the cameras back on those who would turn the cameras on us?

In the meantime, good luck to Internet Eyes and their users, I say! Registration is free, after all! Think of it as a mix of real-time You've Been Framed crossed with Crimewatch. I don't think very many crimes are gonna be spotted this way, but maybe it'll provide a little distraction for students or the unemployed during the ad breaks of Big Brother and Jeremy Kyle.


  1. I can't decide whether this is the death nell of "story" as we know it or is just the latest indication that people desperately need stories to bring some kind of meaning to their lives.

    So desperately that they'll watch hours of footage on the off chance that one might come along... (the one about the petty criminal and the amateur sleuth... their lives would never be the same again...)?


  2. Maybe it's less a matter of narrative and more a new form of landscape art. If they projected it on a gallery wall it could win the Turner Prize!



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