There's a programme from the US that my parents like to watch called Person of Interest. The basic gist is that the US government funded the creation of a giant supercomputer used to spy on potential terrorists which for various reasons is now being used to spot and prevent various other forms of crime. It's an interesting show.
But my blog post today is not about Person of Interest. It's about an interesting point raised in it. Namely, does the government have a right to spy on you if this means preventing crime?
I started thinking about this when I discovered that according to the Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davies one of the things that helped the Boston police department and the FBI identify the Boston Marathon Bombers was taking a leaf out of the Metropolitan Police's book and using video surveillance to watch footage from the scene of the bombing.
According to statistics that I have read there are some 1.85 million CCTV cameras in the UK right now. You are probably being watched all the time and not even noticing it. And that's before we take into account private security cameras inside buildings and so on. So we can add another thousand on to that 1.85 figure.
The question therefore is how do you feel about this? I mean on the one hand, these cameras keep us safe. Every time you see a piece of grainy CCTV footage on the news, then that maybe one step nearer to the perpetrator of a crime being caught. Or security guards reviewing footage may be able to prevent a crime from being prevented by spotting something untoward.
On the other hand this does sacrifice a measure of personal privacy. In a situation foreseen by George Orwell, we are now watched, 24/7, even during those moments that we thought we were alone, when we are just quietly rocking out on our walk home or whatever. Privacy once held so dear is now gone forever. At least in public anyway.
But is it worth it? The question that the next generation must answer is which is more important. Privacy or safety? Privacy is all well and good, but if it leads to crimes going unsolved and terrorists going uncaught, then it might be worth the sacrifice. But at the same time, if being safe comes at the cost of our personal privacy, if we can't walk down the street without being observed, is it worth it? Because what may come next maybe not only public surveillance but surveillance inside our own homes. Are we at risk of sacrificing our rights for the illusion of protection?
This is not to say that surveillance isn't good. Clearly in the case of the Boston Bombings it was very good and very useful indeed. But at some point in the near future, we are going to have to consider whether it really is ok for Big Brother to be watching us all of the time.