Comment 18029

By statius (registered) | Posted February 05, 2008 at 20:47:21

While Ryan's characterization of surveillance installations as "frighteningly authoritarian" is utterly paranoiac (and arguably betrays an outdated libertarian idealism), the truth is that CCTV surveillance just isn't that effective in reducing most street crime (although it does seem to have a noticeable effect on car theft for some reason). In the UK, and particularly London, where CCTV installments are ubiquitous, Home Office reports consistently show only a small reduction in street crime where surveillance cameras were installed. That being said, CCTV installations do indeed produce a major boost in the perception of safety, and residents in areas where cameras have been installed consistently report feeling safer than before. Now, given that the problem with Hamilton's downtown (in attracting shoppers, residents, etc.) probably has more to do with a perception of risk rather than an actual presence thereof, a pretty strong case seems to exist for the installation of surveillance technology. This is just an issue of pragmatics.

As for Ryan's question, "when did we become a society willing to submit to constant video surveillance?". I would submit that we became such a society a very long time ago. How many stores can you go into today that don't have video surveillance? Very few. We're photographed every time we enter a taxi, go into an airport, or take money out of the bank. We readily submit to surveillance everyday. True, banks and taxis are private zones and their owners may do as they wish, but this should indeed be much more disturbing than being monitored by the state. The state at least is bound by a plethora of administrative and procedural rules and a government is always politically accountable. The state and its operatives simpy cannot do what they wish with surveillance footage (and if they do, there is at least the possibility of negative consequences). A store owner, on the other hand, can (more or less with impunity).

As for Ryan's remarks on government encroachment into the private sphere generally, I would simply point out that we do not live in a 19th century minimalist state. Virtually every activity or mode of activity is subject to some sort of governmental regulation. As admin law profs are perennially fond of telling their students on the first day of class: "everything you did or were exposed to from the moment you woke up to the moment you arrived in class was in some way subject to the scrutiny of the state". The truth of the matter is that the state apparatus in your average first world nation is about as extensive and integrated as that of the Soviet Union ever was. The primary difference is that we have responsible government; they did not.

If empirical data shows that the installation of CCTV in the core is likely to increase consumer activity and encourage property development, I'm all for it.

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