The millions of cameras currently keeping a silent watch over London have caused alarm among civil libertarians. The Orwellian police state or the unblinking panopticon of surveillance, however, has failed to materialized so far. There are currently 4.3 million cameras in the United Kingdom, but according to Jamie Malanowski in the Washington Monthly, “the practical effect on a person’s behavior is negligible.”
Rather than preventing crimes, the cameras have proven most helpful in catching perpetrators after crimes have already happened. The massive numbers of cameras are too disjointed, for now, to provide a measure of central control. Malanowski reports that police aren’t trying very hard to link them up, either. “Perhaps because bureaucracies in the UK are mighty forces for inefficiency and inaction, perhaps because abuses have been reined in by good English common sense,” Malanowski writes, “the cameras have been deployed in a largely benign way.”
One company is aiming change the disjointed nature of England’s massive surveillance infrastructure by putting crowds, rather than the government, in charge. Kris Kotarski, reports for the Calgary Herald that the British company Internet Eyes is allowing people to anonymously monitor some closed circuit televisions (CCTVs), and make money while doing it.
Internet Eyes turns surveillance into a game, where anonymous users try to spot shoplifting or vandalism on CCTVs, and then report the crimes for possible cash rewards. The company charges its viewers £20 per month and £1 per crime alert, and offers users a chance at £1,000 per month as a reward for reporting the most crime. It’s like “crowdsourcing” repressive surveillance of a country, or, as Kotarski calls it, a move toward “iPod fascism.”
Update: The Internet Eyes company may not be able to launch its surveillance site, and its future is in question. According to the company’s blog, the United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s Office is currently reviewing the company.