Paid Voyeurism, Coming Soon to Voyeur-Land

We all know about surveillance cameras (a.k.a. CCTV, or closed-circuit television). They’re supposed to protect us against crime, but they have a big problem: no one is really watching them, most of the time. That means that, at best, such cameras may have value after-the-fact in providing recorded video evidence (for submission to a trial, say), but do little to alert people when a crime is being committed or to send immediate help – or indeed, some reports say, even to deter crime.

All this notwithstanding, the UK is the world’s CCTV paradise, with by some accounts 1.5 million cameras in operation in various public spaces there. The problem remains of monitoring all those cameras sufficiently to be able to fully draw on the technology’s supposed benefits. Doing that with computers is one technique that is coming along, one that supposedly is not the answer yet, although doubtless it will be soon. In the meantime, articles in both Le Monde (Yoyeurism rewarded in Great Britain) and in the Nouvel Observateur (One society proposes to reward informants) have now drawn their respective readerships’ attention to a new private initiative in the UK called Internet Eyes (“Catch a criminal online”; “Become a Viewer for FREE”), where the essential idea is to get volunteers to watch these cameras, through the Internet, in the hopes of spotting crime as it happens and alerting the authorities for a cash reward. Go on and click through to check out the site: just like that girl you see there, you could soon be sitting back in the evening on your coach, relaxing with your laptop as you scan for criminals! Note in particular that, listed just below the heading “Typical event notifications include:” is “Anti social [sic] behavior” – defined by whom?

Anyway, any of you who are interested can simply head to this piece in the (London) Times to read a more lengthy treatment, in English of course, with many more details (including the assertion in the picture-caption up top that Britain in fact has 4.2 million CCTV cameras operational). The French input to all this is simply that those two publications from the Continent tipped me off to this story to begin with. Indeed, I’m otherwise rather disappointed in them for what is really in both cases a spare, “just the facts” treatment of Internet Eyes – the only hint of opinion comes in each article’s title – when you really would expect more contemplation of what this all means from the mainstream press of such a philosophically-inclined and intellectual land.

(Gee, you’re right: I’m more-or-less guilty of the same offense, including saving my most intense opinionating for this post’s title. I can only respond that I still don’t know what to think about it all. I do really hate the CCTV cameras, but then again, examination of that Wikipedia page about them started me contemplating the 1993 murder of that two-year-old Liverpool boy by two ten-year-olds, a crime that leaned heavily on CCTV footage for its solution.)

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