Red Road

Permit me to make a slight detour into the backstreets of this subject. I enjoy a night out at the cinema, even more so recently since we discovered the Rex Cinema in Berkhamsted (shameless plug). My taste in movies is quite varied; I enjoy the Hollywood blockbusters, but I have a penchant for art-house movies as well.

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One of the best ‘Brit Flicks’ of 2006, which won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, was entitled Red Road. It has nothing to do with red routes (bus lanes), but it does concern the life of the central character Jackie who happens to work in a CCTV control room. The plot involves the increasing sense of insecurity engendered in Jackie by what she observes on the city’s security cameras.

As you can imagine, there are many shots of Jackie and her colleagues sitting in front of banks of TV monitors observing the citizens of Glasgow going about their daily business, unaware or unconcerned that they are being watched – quite the norm for the UK. When Red Road was first shown to European journalists it was misinterpreted as being either Sci-Fi or as making a political statement.

Our European neighbours do not share our obsession with surveillance and control of the population. As far as they are concerned 1984 is just another brand of beer rather than a self fulfilling prophesy. It is a sad statistic that the UK is currently home to 1% of the World’s population, but home to 20% of all the CCTV cameras.

The writer and director of ‘Red Road’, Andrea Arnold, spent quite a bit of time observing the workings of CCTV control centres while she was researching the film. She said in one radio interview that she had a pre-conceived idea that these centres would be staffed by serial voyeurs, but that ultimately she was impressed by the professionalism and concern of the operators. However, the whole experience did make her and the cast members think long and hard about why we have so many cameras. This BBC News article sets out their views.

So, what’s next? We were informed of the future by the Home Secretary, John Reid this week with the announcement that ‘Shouting Cameras’ were going to be deployed around the country. Apparently, it turns out that, despite the promises, surveillance alone does not cure society’s ills at a stroke. Read this article from Spy Blog for a realistic assessment of this latest in a long list of pointless, headline-grabbing, under-evaluated schemes.

Perhaps the same principle could be applied to traffic enforcement. Instead of loudspeakers, the council could use the traffic information channel to interrupt the car radio to name and shame offenders. The GPS device installed under the pretext of road pricing would prove where you were and what you were doing at the time. To save time, the council could just take the penalty charge out of your bank account by direct debit.

It’s not a matter of whether or not someone’s watching over you. It’s just a question of their intentions. (Randy K. Milholland)

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