Letter: Watch out for the hidden camera

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The Independent Online
From Mr Jeremy Walker

Sir: Your two articles (28 November) on closed circuit television (CCTV) were disappointingly superficial. It is debatable, as one of your authors pointed out, whether CCTV actually reduces crime overall because criminal activity, like water flowing downhill, will invariably find a way round obstacles in its path. The rise in crime in rural areas, where as yet there is little or no electronic surveillance, must in part be the result of the increasing presence of CCTV in towns and cities.

But even if CCTV were proved to be effective, it doesn't necessarily follow that its use is desirable. One of the most disturbing aspects of its popularity with the police, the public and, in particular, those who sell and promote it, is that the crucial question of whether the means are justified by the end is rarely addressed. As a consequence, there is no debate about at what point this method of deterring crime becomes undesirable.

For example, having cameras at the end of every residential road would almost certainly reduce DSS fraud and income tax evasion, because they would detect those who were working while signing on as unemployed or those who were moonlighting. Does this mean that they should be installed as soon as the money for them can be found ?

Most important of all, however, is that technological approaches to crime, which rely on external controls on criminal behaviour, will inevitably contribute to a weakening of internal controls. We should obey the law and respect our fellow-citizens simply because we ought to, not because there is a danger we will be caught if we don't. CCTV may bring temporary relief in areas where crime is a problem but, in fact, it is just another symptom of the increasing intrusiveness and repressiveness that pose an even greater threat to our freedoms than crime itself.

Yours faithfully,

Jeremy Walker

London, SW17

28 November