Big Brother is watching

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The Big Brother nightmare of George Orwell’s 1984 novel has become a reality; it may have taken a little longer than he predicted, but Orwell’s vision of a society where cameras and computers record every person’s movements is now here.

The use of cameras and computers in modern-day Australia is now a mirror image of Orwell’s fictional world, created in the post-war Forties. On the wall outside his former residence, flat number 27B (where Orwell lived until his death in 1950) there is the message that everywhere we go – similar to the 1949 poster to mark the launch of Orwell’s 1984 – ‘Big Brother is Watching You’.

The use of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) to detect crime and enhance public safety is increasingly recognised as an effective way to provide surveillance. It does not matter where you are in today’s world, chances are Big Brother is watching every move you make. It is difficult to escape from the eyes of the huge range of cameras available wherever you go … in retail premises, educational establishments, industrial sites, sporting arenas, entertainment venues and offices … chances are, you will be under surveillance. This system is increasingly being used as a vehicle to detect antisocial behaviour and crime and to assist in the detection and prosecution of offenders.

Community and business support is growing rapidly, as the use of CCTV cameras is being accepted as a necessary tool. While there are some in the community who oppose their use as a breach of our rights, the simple fact is if you do not break the law, then you have nothing to worry about. It is difficult to imagine why people oppose their use – could it be that the only reason is they must have something to hide?

Currently the New South Wales Police are encouraging local business owners to register details of their CCTV systems, to assist police in their fight against crime. The owners of large and small businesses who have installed CCTV cameras in customer areas and/or outside their premises are now being asked to register their details, so that the New South Wales Police Force can store the information on a secure central database. Police will use the information to map CCTV locations across New South Wales, enabling officers to quickly contact business owners and obtain vision for investigative purposes without unnecessary delays.

CCTV systems are increasingly being used as a crime prevention tool and to bolster security in public places, such as airports, shopping centres, licensed premises and on public transport. However, until the CCTV Register’s launch this month, there had not been a central database which police could use to track down footage that might prove critical to their inquiries. The value of CCTV imagery was illustrated during the investigations into the London terrorist bombings in July 2005. Not only were local police able to use CCTV imagery to identify potential suspects, they were also able to create a visual history of the terrorists’ activities and movements immediately prior to the attacks. The CCTV Register will not only assist with police investigations into major incidents, but also smaller crimes and occurrences, such as shoplifting or break and enters.

Assistant Commissioner Bob Waites, the Operational Communications and Information Commander, is asking business owners across NSW to get behind the initiative and register online.

“This register has a lot of potential as a crime-fighting tool and will assist investigators enormously as they carry out inquiries. Police will without delay be able to determine whether there is a CCTV system installed in or around the area where a crime has occurred and, if so, source the footage as part of their inquiries. From that footage, investigating officers might be able to identify an offender or uncover a vital piece of evidence.”

The use of CCTV in open-street settings in Australia is poised to expand and assist with solving crimes. Increasingly, these systems will be integrated, with coverage ranging across public and private space. In the future, as more systems are established, it will be easier to transmit information, and this could lead to facilitating centralised monitoring of systems spanning large areas and populations.

Not everybody in business has CCTV; however, the Local Command’s Crime Prevention Officers say businesses who don’t have CCTV systems should consider installing one.

“CCTV is a fantastic crime prevention tool, with criminals less likely to commit offences in areas being monitored by security cameras. Obviously, CCTV can also be crucial in identifying offenders and can assist police in solving crimes. We encourage anyone with a system in or outside their business to sign up to the CCTV Register.”

A Focus survey of businesses in the Manning and Great lakes region all convey that the installation of CCTV cameras has helped reduce shoplifting and antisocial behaviour, but they are quick to tell you that it has not eliminated theft from shops or offices.

“To eliminate theft totally is a costly business. We would have to employ someone fulltime to watch monitors constantly and/or have them watch the tapes out of hours. Business cannot afford such a luxury,” said one owner, who wished to remain anonymous. “But we do support this initiative.”

One large retailer said he relied on his staff to watch for any suspicious activity and could check on the spot their staff’s suspicions.

“We do from time to time find bigger products missing and do peruse the tapes to identify the offenders or circumstances. Most times we can identify the offender/s and call police.”

Many crimes go undetected, and police are encouraging all business owners to report any suspicious activity or loss of goods. With police resources stretched to the limit, businesses registering their CCTVs will hopefully reduce the time of an investigation and assist in the prosecution of offenders. Businesses should register their CCTVs by downloading the registration form at www.police.nsw.gov.au/cctv_register or contact Crime Prevention Officer Ray Slade on 6552 0317.

We must all realise that George Orwell’s 1984 may have been fiction at the time; however, like so many other similar books, it has become a 21st century reality.

Story by Peter Lyne.

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