Here’s looking at you, kid

December 6, 2009

There’s a bit of a fuss in the news today about a letter apparently written by HM Queen Elizabeth to newspaper and magazine editors about paparazzi photographers “intruding on the royal family’s privacy” ahead of its traditional Christmas break at Sandringham.

“Members of the royal family feel they have a right to privacy when they are going about everyday, private activities,” said Paddy Harverson, spokesman for the queen’s son Prince Charles. [Reuters]

Well, Mr Harverson, there are those of us with far less power and privilege who feel the same way – but our feelings on the matter have been ignored in favour of the creation of a surveillance society (with all its links to the database state) by means – not of paparazzi photographers – but of CCTV cameras. Whilst nobody knows the exact number of cameras in operation in public spaces in Britain (David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, notably suggested “a CCTV camera for every 14 citizens”), there can surely be no disputing the fact that there has been a huge increase in the numbers in recent years. If only the general public could write similar letters to the watchers – and feel confident that our requests would be heeded.

And I don’t want to hear about how public figures “have a right to privacy” simply because they’re public figures – when the rest of us voice our wish to the same rights, we are told that if we’re doing nothing wrong then we have nothing to hide, and therefore nothing to fear from the intrusion. In this much-vaunted democratic society of ours, I can think of no convincing reason why there should be one rule for the wealthy and powerful and another rule for the rest of us.


4 Responses to “Here’s looking at you, kid”

  1. Heather Says:

    I don’t agree. If they were splashing our pictures all over the papers and internet, picking over what items we bought and disecting our dress sense or other such things then yes, sure, we’d have reason to complain like those hounded by paparazzi. CCTV cameras are fairly unobtrusive, make catching criminals a lot easier, re-enact last few minutes of crimes, help in cases of snatched children etc. Paparazzi stand obtrusively in their targets way, follow them around both on foot and in cars, camp outside peoples houses, sneak through peoples gardens snapping away at anything and everything that happens.

    The question as to whether public figues have a right to privacy is another matter of course. However, I think that perhaps even those ideas should be different for the royal family, after all, it is something they are born into not something they seek out like celebs.

  2. Malefact Says:

    The oft-reported “a camera for every 14 citizens” is a highly contraversial statistic, as it was based on a sample of two busy streets located in central London, as the Fact Check article you link to rightly states. It’s only ‘notable’ because the tabloids and other popular media keep misusing it, to the extent that it has, regrettably, influenced politicians and policy.

    Indeed, in the most recent edition of “Significance” (an academic magazine published by the Royal Statistical Society) they review the data to date and come to much the same conclusion – that even given a lack of knowledge, in all probability there are a *lot* fewer CCTV cameras – even given the increase over the last few years. The “surviellance state” is one of those popular myths, much on the same level (although perhaps not as odious) as “Britain is full up”, which have nothing to do with truth whatsoever and everything to do with the lies that people want to believe.

    I don’t disagree with the royal family’s desire for privacy, and I agree with Heather that I don’t think you can equate the loss of privacy that public figures face (the tabs poring over your every choice of clothing, or even how you look when you go to empty your bins, in the case of Susan Boyle) with the comparatively low level of survelliance the majority are placed under.

    What I do think is that we need to have the right to access any data taken about us (up to and including CCTV footage). I also find that the idea that citizens should be intimidated by the police out of taking photographs in public when we have no say in how we are observed to be a far greater hypocrisy.

  3. jimpivonka Says:

    “…the idea that citizens should be intimidated by the police out of taking photographs in public (is) a far greater hypocrisy.”

    It is indeed, and judging from some reports I have read here in the US, the police there are taking this to a really unacceptable level.

    Officialdom, in preventing the recording by private citizens of fact, image, and opinion through photography or any other recording means is overstepping its bounds, and facilitating the creation and maintenance of “official realities” which cannot be questioned by the private citizen.

    This is quite different, and I think even more dangerous, than official observation ans recording of private actions in public places. It should be opposed even more strongly, by overt political action and by civil disobedience.

  4. sqrrel Says:

    CCTV cameras are fairly unobtrusive, make catching criminals a lot easier, re-enact last few minutes of crimes, help in cases of snatched children etc.

    I don’t consider wide scale surveillance of the population by the state, without any limits on how long the data can be kept or oversight by civilian organizations to be unobtrusive. Especially given the tendency, as Helen says, of these things to feed into the desire of the state to track everyone all the time, in ways not to our benefit. It’s not the cameras themselves who are obtrusive, and focusing on that is missing the point.

    Further, a lot of studies (Bruce Schneier links a number of them in this article) have shown that CCTV cameras are not actually that useful in solving crime, or in preventing it. At best, what cameras do is change the location of the crime.

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