Beside me is an affable young man who goes by the name of Haz. Several closed-circuit screens are arrayed in front of us, displaying images provided by 10 cameras aimed at two nearby nightclubs. London authorities were early adopters of widespread closed-circuit television CCTV. From to the city saw a 72 percent increase in cameras, making up one-third. Today Londoners are some of the most closely watched. Islington map shows only fixed camera locations. Haz is here a couple of weekends a month. Otherwise, the thousands of young men and women entering and exiting the clubs are his unwitting entertainment.
Haz sits in the trailer for 10 hours straight, eyes trained on the patrons.
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It amazes him how indiscreet drug dealers can be—with the bulges in their socks and their melodramatic handovers—despite the presence of security guards. Tonight there are no drug deals, no fights, only the random foolishness of the young and inebriated. They stagger with linked arms down the middle of the street. They paw at each other. They get sick on the sidewalk.
In their sudden aloneness, they break out in sobs. But do they really tend to forget who they are? Or do they simply tend to forget that someone might be watching? Shooter Detection Systems in Boston, Massachusetts, has invented a wall-mounted device top left designed to find an active shooter inside a building. The system uses acoustic software to identify the sound of gunshots and infrared muzzle-flash detectors to verify the shots and then automatically provides security officers with a map that shows their precise location. Two years later, in , Kodak introduced its Brownie portable movie camera to an awestruck public.
Today more than 2. By , one telecommunications company estimates, 6. Meanwhile, in a single year an estimated million new surveillance cameras are sold. More than three million ATMs around the planet stare back at their customers. Tens of thousands of cameras known as automatic number plate recognition devices, or ANPRs, hover over roadways—to catch speeding motorists or parking violators but also, in the case of the United Kingdom, to track the comings and goings of suspected criminals.
Even less quantifiable, but far more vexing, are the billions of images of unsuspecting citizens captured by facial-recognition technology and stored in law enforcement and private-sector databases over which our control is practically nonexistent. Presently the skies are cluttered with drones—2. Nor does it include the many thousands of airborne spying devices employed by other countries—among them Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea.
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More than 1, satellites monitor our planet. From a distance of about miles, some of them can discern a herd of buffalo or the stages of a forest fire. From outer space, a camera clicks and a detailed image of the block where we work can be acquired by a total stranger. In Peter Gold was shot while trying to rescue a woman who was being abducted at gunpoint. The incident was captured on a video camera; it shows a man shooting Gold in the stomach and then trying twice to shoot him in the head as he lay curled on the sidewalk. Both times, the gun jammed.
Like the business owner who installed this camera, more cities and private citizens are turning to street-level surveillance to fight crime. Gold returns to the New Orleans street where he was shot in Then a year-old medical student, he had intervened when he saw a man later identified as Euric Cain attempt to drag a woman into a vehicle.
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Simultaneously, on that very same block, we may well be photographed at unsettlingly close range perhaps dozens of times daily, from lenses we may never see, our image stored in databases for purposes we may never learn. Our smartphones, our Internet searches, and our social media accounts are giving away our secrets.
Now they can just find it out from your devices. This is—to lift the title from another British futurist, Aldous Huxley—our brave new world. You find evidence of it in ancient Rome, ancient Greece, in the Bible, in the Quran. Is a looming state of Orwellian bleakness already a fait accompli? Or is there a more hopeful outlook, one in which a world under watch in many ways might be better off?
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Consider the infrared camera traps the World Wildlife Fund uses in China to monitor the movements of the threatened giant panda. Or the sound-activated underwater camera system developed by UC San Diego researchers that tracks the nearly extinct vaquita porpoise in the Sea of Cortez.
Face-scanning technology is evolving rapidly and is increasingly employed in high-security facilities such as airports and government offices. Now some stores are even using it to identify returning customers or shoplifters. Recall, for example, the footage from security cameras that cracked the cases of the London subway and Boston Marathon bombings. Multitudes of more obscure episodes exist, such as that of Euric Cain, caught unambiguously on camera shooting a Tulane University medical student named Peter Gold in after Gold prevented him from abducting a woman on the streets of New Orleans.
Gold survived; Cain received a year prison sentence for a crime rampage that included rapes, armed robbery, and attempted murder. Using a technique known as nuclear resonance fluorescence—in which elements become identifiable by exciting their nuclei—the screening device can, without opening a freight container, discern the elemental fingerprint of its contents. Unlike a typical x-ray scan, which shows only shape and density, it can tell the difference between soda and diet soda, natural and manufactured diamonds, plastics and high-energy explosives, and nonnuclear and nuclear material.
Does anyone doubt that a more closely inspected world over the past years would have been a safer one? Simpson acted at all. But today such technology can be seen as a lifesaver in more encompassing ways. Thanks to imagery provided by satellite cameras, relief organizations have located refugees near Mosul, encamped in the deserts of northern Iraq.
Could Big Brother save humanity, rather than enslave it? Or might both scenarios be true at the same time? These are a selection of images taken by of Planet's Dove satellites operating on September 20, Nonetheless, his appraisal of the U. What followed was a fevered spread of monitoring technology.
But the phrase was commonly used, and it crushed any sentiment against CCTVs. Now spread throughout the country are 9, such cameras, which photograph and store 30 million to 40 million images daily of every single passing license tag, not merely those of speeders or known criminals. Here it feels benign. Elements of fear and romance help explain the profusion of surveillance in the U. This, after all, is a country saved by espionage: The museum commemorating the legendary World War II code breakers at Bletchley Park, 40 miles northwest of London, is today a much visited site.
When it comes to protecting its people, the British government is viewed in a more appreciative light than perhaps those of other free societies. Even after the revelations by former U. National Security Agency contract employee Edward Snowden that American and British intelligence agencies had been collecting bulk data from their own citizens—a disclosure that triggered calls for reform by both political parties in the U.
It runs the National Health Service, public education, and social security. So when we talk about government surveillance, the resonance is different here. Most of its police departments are now using or considering using body cameras—a development that, thus far at least, has been cheered by civil liberties groups as a means of curbing law enforcement abuses. ANPR cameras are in many major American cities as traffic and parking enforcement tools.
Meanwhile, Chicago has invested heavily in its network of 32, CCTV devices to help combat the murder epidemic in its inner city. But other U. Similarly, the acquiescence among the British to the proliferation of cameras is as striking as any sound of silence could possibly be.
During three weeks in London, I strolled through the quiet neighborhoods where Orwell and Huxley once resided.
For its part, the former Huxley residence a few miles away is under constant watch in an impregnable steel-reinforced control room. Outside of the city in the county of South Yorkshire, I visited Barnsley Hospital, where some security personnel are equipped with body cameras to discourage unruly behavior by patients or visitors.
Similar cameras, it was reported during my stay, were being tested for use by schoolteachers. Flight attendants? Postal workers?
Human resource directors? Is it acceptable for all of us to go around legitimately filming each other, just in case somebody commits a wrong against us? Lighter shades indicate satellites jointly owned with another country. Some satellites are multipurpose, like this one, which is used for Earth observation, communications,. I thought about this last question during my final days ambling along the well-scrubbed streets of London, my eyes now keenly attuned to the cyclops-like glares from corners and lampposts.
As my path inevitably led me to the famed Westminster Bridge over the River Thames, I found myself engulfed by tourists of various nationalities holding up smartphones in an attempt to produce the ultimate London selfie. I ducked and turned and apologized before realizing it was futile. And these were just the cameras in front of my face.
Were all of my movements being casually documented in this way? Did it really make any difference whether Big Brother was watching, given that everyone is already watching everyone else? The first, Chloe Combi, is a former schoolteacher whose first book, Generation Z: Their Voices, Their Lives, is the fruit of hundreds of hours of interviews she conducted with British teenagers. They demonstrated a remarkable nonchalance about being photographed and filmed in almost every conceivable setting. And one of the signs of true wealth and power may end up being that privacy will become a commodity only for those who have the serious money to buy it.
For everybody else, all the world really will be a stage, with all the people on it self-consciously playing their role. Our visual constellation is replete with adorable babies, kittens, and elephants—but also ISIS beheadings, celebrities in sexual congress, double-speaking politicians, police shootings of unarmed civilians. Whether this all adds up to a more enlightened society, an overstimulated one, or a little bit of both is hard to say.