George Orwell aurait été surpris de voir que son livre de science fiction 1984 a tant inspiré la Grande-Bretagne : avec plus de 4 millions de cameras CCTV à travers le pays, contre 340 000 en France, la Grande-Bretagne montre sa volonté de sécuriser son territoire. Mais une telle sécurité ne risque-t-elle pas d’entraver les libertés des Britanniques ?
I / Some elements of history
Repeated attacks perpetrated by the IRA (Irish Republican Army) in the UK during the 1980s and 1990s led to a wave of fear throughout the country. To cope with it, a wide video surveillance policy has been implemented. In 1996, the screens’ installation, maintenance and monitoring accounted for 75% of the budget allocated by the government to prevent crime. But what about today? With 500 million pounds spent on this project, the number of CCTV cameras (closed circuit television) has reached 4 million with 500,000 in London alone! That means one camera for every 14 inhabitants on average and actually more since some areas of the country have no video surveillance at all.
II / Results
What are the consequences of CCTV cameras? To fight crime, improve road safety, prevent industrial hazards and promote safety are some of the objectives. And it is estimated that more than 70% of murder investigations have been solved thanks to CCTV cameras. Each one can also see that the number of bombings in London has decreased significantly. Furthermore a large part of the population seems to approve of this system and this trend has been all the stronger since the 2005 attacks.
III / A disputed result
In 2005 we certainly saw terrorists on camera, but the 56 victims of the bombing of the London Underground could not be saved. The problem is that the cameras cannot prevent attacks but only identify terrorists.
For many, the results are very limited. Indeed, some argue that only 3% of crimes are solved thanks to CCTV (after the British police). Therefore, their use is increasingly questioned especially in times of austerity: it is a very expensive program in a period of spending cuts.
Furthermore, rather than preventing certain crimes, these cameras merely push criminals to go elsewhere: they locate monitored places and commit their crimes elsewhere. Criminals are violent but not stupid.
Another argument used by critics of CCTV is that they violate privacy. People feel that the state scrutinizes their every move. People can feel that they live in Orwell’s novel.
Moreover, since 2009, the http://www.interneteyes.co.uk/ website allows British citizens to connect and watch these cameras to do the police’s job. This reinforces the breach-of-privacy problem since it is possible for a friend or a coworker or family member to watch you. It can also strengthen the animosity between citizens and create a climate of tension.
A large part of the British approve of these cameras and believe they are safer thanks to them despite the violations of privacy that many complain of. And announcements in terms of national safety show that the number of cameras in the country will increase. A new generation of cameras is on the way: more intelligent cameras will automatically move to the place where the offense is taking place (for instance, at the sound of a breaking car window, the camera will turn to the car). It will become more difficult for criminals to escape the watchful eyes of Big Brother.
Loïck BOINNARD, Yassine FILALI & Alexandre BEL