THE BLOG

CCTV - Protection or Infringement?

15/06/2016 17:13 | Updated 15 June 2016

"The most sacred thing is to be able to shut your own door."
G.K. Chesterton

Westminster Council are currently considering getting rid of its fixed CCTV cameras in September due to the cost of replacing and managing them. They claim that there is only "limited evidence" fixed CCTV cameras prevent crime and disorder and their cash might be better spent on improved street lighting. Is this the only way we can engage with this increasing infringement of our privacy?: cost vs efficacy.

Wiretapper is an outdoor audio project attempting to hide performance in very public spaces; in urban centres that are closely observed by our increasingly anxious guardians. The documentation of this project is unavoidable and relentless - captured by the numerous cameras that tirelessly record our public existence.

We are all inadvertently making a vast multi-camera, avant-guard art film that is infinitely long and can only be viewed by submitting a subject access request for CCTV footage (under the data protection act) and then each individual will be able to watch the bits that they are in (with everyone else's faces blurred out.) To watch the whole film you would need everybody present to also submit a subject access request and then somehow piece it all together.

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Amazingly you can still demand to see any footage of you that has been captured by CCTV. This is what is written on the government's website:

"You have the right to request closed circuit television (CCTV) footage of yourself.
The CCTV owner must provide this within 40 days, and can charge up to £10. You need to make a request in writing to the owner of the CCTV system. The owner's details are usually written on a sign attached to the camera, unless the owner is obvious (like a shop). You should tell them you're requesting information held about you under the Data Protection Act, and provide information to help them identify you, like:
◦ a specific date and time
◦ proof of your identity
◦ a description of yourself
The CCTV owner must provide you with a copy of the footage that you can be seen in. They can edit the footage to protect the identities of other people.
The CCTV owner can invite you to a viewing of the footage if:
◦ they're unable to provide you with the footage itself
◦ you agree with that arrangement
They can refuse your request if sharing the footage will put a criminal investigation at risk."

It seems so easy; we could completely overwhelm the finite resources of whatever individuals and organisations that are happily sticking up more and more cameras by our constant requests for footage.

If all the insanely unethical psychological experiments from the 50's taught us anything - it was that our humanity is hanging on by a thread and that when we are knowingly observed we tend to think twice about indulging our darker fantasies (unless, of course, those fantasies are contingent on being observed). But when Thomas Jefferson wrote, "Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching." we can probably assume that having his prostate checked was not one of the things he was imagining. An innocent and prudent act, yet not one for the webcam.

"Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say,"
Edward Snowden 2015

The most surprising thing about Edward Snowden's revelations was how unsurprised we all were by them. The dystopian visions of our most paranoid friends had been confirmed and we all kind of shrugged and added a capital letter to our password which we later changed back to lower case because it was too difficult to remember. Clearly our opinion of the integrity of our governments and what their agencies get up to was already pitifully low.

In the hotel room where he blew the whistle to journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill and the filmmaker Laura Poitras, he actually hid under a duvet while he typed something into his laptop. Is that the logical end point of our fear? Permanently covering ourselves with bedding?

We can all point our fingers at Jeremy Bentham, the philosopher who founded modern utilitarianism, and his Panopticon which has become a metaphor for the state we're living in. Or we can literally point our fingers at his actual mummified head which is locked in a box in University College London; locked away to prevent students from stealing it at a time before the cameras dutifully watched the corridors.

Wiretapper will be running throughout summer 2016 at secret locations (Zone 1). For more information please visit http://www.wiretapper.co.uk/

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