CCTV: “You Value Health Most When You Have Been Sick”

Mark Espiner is a writer for the Guardian as well as a playwrite/director. He has had a new gig since last autumn, though, writing for the Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel. Obviously, comparison between the two great European capitals which that new position causes him to move between (by which I mean Berlin and London, where the Guardian is headquartered) is what his columns are expected to be about and, as a writer on the dramatic arts, it’s only natural that he has devoted most of his attention to cultural issues.

But not exclusively so. One difference between the two cities that leaps out him he describes in his latest piece, The eyes lying in ambush of the CCTV. He remembers back to his first visit to Berlin, a little over a year ago: what accounted for that strange feeling of freedom, of exaltation even, that he felt then while walking through the streets of the city center? Well, you already know the answer from his piece’s title. It was actually the absence of something that inspired such enthusiasm, the absence there of the closed-circuit TV cameras that, as he puts it, “bristle on every corner” in London.

To be sure, Espiner had previously rather perversely made use of his special journalist’s access to aggravate this hang-up of his: he managed to visit a monitoring center in London (a “dingy room, deep below the streets”), where he witnessed officials there using the cameras to zoom in – to a “scary” level of detail – on anyone who seemed “suspicious,” or else interesting to take a close look at for any other reason. Therefore, although coming back to Berlin he does observe a few more Video Überwachung signs than he noticed before, the apparent forebearance on the part of the Berlin authorities to spy on their own citizens is still quite refreshing.

The reason for all that is not hard to grasp: after all, as he does point out, some of those Berlin city authorities not so long ago lived under a Stasi regime, which itself followed a Nazi regime. Still, Espiner warns against any complacency – not necessarily in the face of officialdom suddenly changing its mind and deciding to bring in the cameras, but rather in the form of new private shopping centers and “gated communities” being built, which inevitably bring with them an associated bunch of such cameras, to provide “protection” and “security.”

Anyway, it turns out that you can check out his argument for yourself, as Der Tagesspiegel has taken to posting parallel versions of his columns in English. (No doubt the original English that Espiner wrote them in, of course; this one is called CCTV: Invasion of privacy.) I reveal that to you as a public service, even as it is an unwelcome development since you’ll no longer need the assistance of your neighborhood EuroSavant to read these particular columns from Der Tagesspiegel.

UPDATE: Please also be sure to see this: Spy Cameras Won’t Make Us Safer, from a renowned security expert, and including up-to-the-minute insights on the topic from the recent very professional assassination of that Hamas official in Dubai.

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