Choices: is Big Brother watching you?
In George Orwell’s classic book 1984, he predicted a society where everyone is under complete surveillance by the authorities and the phrase Big Brother is watching you, is a constant reminder of this.
Nowadays, if you live in the UK you might probably feel Big Brother has arrived with the constant ever-vigilant CCTV (Close Circuit TV) watching you almost everywhere you go.
There are an estimated 4.2 million CCTV cameras in Britain: more CCTV cameras in public spaces than any other country in the world and one for every 14 people. On average, an individual will appear on 300 CCTV cameras a day and those tapes are kept by many organisations for indefinite lengths of time.
Add to this facial recognition cameras and the introduction of the use of special listening devices which can be placed in lamp posts, street furniture and offices – the equipment can pick up aggressive tones on the basis of decibel level, pitch and speed at which words are spoken – and you soon realise that Britain is “sleepwalking into a surveillance society”, a warning that Richard Thomas, the information commissioner, gave in 2006.
Isn’t that enough? Apparently not as there was report this week that Police in the UK are planning to use unmanned spy drones, similar to those used in Afghanistan, for “routine” monitoring of antisocial motorists, protesters, agricultural thieves and fly-tippers, in a significant expansion of covert state surveillance. Principally this is for the 2112 London Olympics although they are developing a national drone plan.
Today, our movements and lives are watched or monitored in many ways including the systematic tracking and recording of travel and use of public services; automated use of CCTV; analysis of buying habits and financial transactions; and the monitoring of telephone calls, e-mail and internet use at home and in the workplace.
The level of surveillance will grow even further in the next 10 years as new technology and techniques are being used to gather a growing amount of information about UK citizens. The average person living in Britain has 3,254 pieces of personal information stored about him or her in one week, most of which is kept in databases for years and in some cases indefinitely.
Maybe fortunately, for reasons of cost, the Government seems to be having second thoughts on its plans to introduce a new system of biometric ID cards, including “biometrics” - fingerprints and iris scans - linked to a database of personal information.
So there you have it - every shopping trip, telephone call, card swipe, email sent and click of a mouse is being is recorded somewhere, and the information compiled and stored about Britain’s citizens. We are only missing telescreens in our living rooms to watch every move we make at home.
Should we have to live like this? There are concerns about the “creeping encroachment” on civil liberties created by this increasing intrusive surveillance into our daily lives. Some would argue that they - the authorities - are only safeguarding its citizens and protecting the public and you have nothing to fear if you are a law-abiding citizen going about your regular day-to-day business.
Is Big Brother watching you now?