Blog Archives

Surveillance Cameras, Crime, Fear, False Promises and Assumptions

It is just a matter of weeks since the rape and murder of ABC staffer Jill Meagher, the truly saddening case of a young woman going out for drinks with colleagues, never to return home to husband of 3 years, Tom Meagher again. There’s a man before the courts facing charges over the assault and death, a swift end to the most difficult of investigations for police. It was CCTV footage that helped identify the perpetrator, not in the Brunswick street, but from a local shopfront. Inevitably, such a high-profile case has provoked some discussion, mostly sober, of the appropriateness or otherwise of the increased presence of these devices in our community.

Today Opposition Leader Tony Abbott pledged to spend $50 million over 4 years, via grants to local council areas, to be used for the purchase and installation of CCTV cameras in cities across the country. This reinstates a program of the former Howard Government, not the first planned resurrection of policy from the Howard years.

Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu though, as leader of the state where Jill Meagher disappeared, beat his federal colleague off the mark, in swift response to the heinous crime. Premier Baillieu has pledged $3 million for local councils, in an identical scheme to that of the federal Opposition Leader, again for local councils to procure more security cameras for the streets of Victoria.

The whole matter raises the age-old question: at what price do we diminish liberty?

To some extent that is a false question. Security cameras do not stop people from going about legal activities in a public place. Indeed, the presence of security cameras does not even stop people doing things that are illegal.

When looking at the privacy side of the equation, things get a little more blurred. There are some surveillance cameras in very strange places, locations which tread a very fine line and can stray into the territory of absurd over-utilisation. That in itself should be the biggest worry, rather than the simple existence of prying eyes in our streets and other public locations.

In the debate over whether or not to make use of, or increase the abundance of security cameras, there’s another interesting element. Avid supporters of increasing the saturation of CCTV cameras will say that they are a very good crime prevention tool. They will try to argue that the simple presence of these facilities cuts down crime before it happens there is simply little or no evidence of this.

What they are, as the Meagher case has proved, is a vital tool, when not overused and abused, for aiding law enforcement. They can capture illegal practices and aid in the identification of offenders. Sometimes this will lead to the quick apprehension of offenders, when manned by alert staff, usually of councils. Other times, they can lead to the arrest of alleged criminals days, weeks, months or years later.

Security footage also helps build a picture of events that may have preceded a crime. Referring back to the death of Jill Meagher, this is exactly what happened. The footage formed part of the story of the last hours in the life of the Melbourne resident. That narrative is crucial for investigators in filling in the blanks in cases that are tough to solve if a sequence of events is not established quickly.

Surveillance cameras and facilities do not make communities safer as you would be made to believe. In this sense, the use of them, the simple talk of beefing up capabilities is used to appeal to an emotion. Rhetoric about CCTV footage is successfully applied, appealing to the human need to feel safe and secure in our daily lives. Human beings are susceptible to being very passive and accepting when fears we have are harnessed by politicians.

The CCTV issue is a difficult one and there are no easy answers. There seems to be a right and a wrong way for governments to go about implementing further plans for the over-watch of the streets and public facilities of our towns and cities.

The highly publicised murder of Jill Meagher will serve as a catalyst for more surveillance cameras around our country and that’s not automatically a bad thing. At the same time, our politicians have a responsibility to not make false promises which appeal to easily manipulated emotions.

Generalisations Flowing and Critical Thought Lacking Over Riotous Actions

The events on the weekend in Sydney and those in the days preceding them, across the world, were horrific. There are no nice words that can be said about the protests, riots, call them what you will, that have taken place in a number of countries, both in the Middle East and across the Western world. A small portion of the Islamic community in Australia, less than one thousandth of the Muslim inhabitants of Australia took to the streets of Sydney with violence and mayhem in mind. This was met as well with the urge for a small number to parade with disturbing placards, one in particular held by a young child.

These protests provoked strong reactions from the public, the traditional media, social media and politicians all rising to condemn the divisive actions of a small proportion of people hell-bent on causing trouble and being divisive. Those speaking out against the raucous and over-the-top actions quickly included leaders in the local Muslim community which is quite sizeable in and around Sydney.

The actions of the protesters, demonstrators, rioters, call them what you will show a complete lack of understanding of the thoughts of people in relation to what they themselves say was the issue- that is, the tacky, poorly made video by an American that wouldn’t even be considered good enough and tasteful enough for a Saturday Night Live skit. This tends to indicate, as some thinkers have pointed out over the last few days,

The reactions of those responding to the scenes on Saturday, in particular on social media- read Twitter, tended toward heavy generalisations and at times showed a complete lack of critical thought and comprehension.

The protesters, if the film was the issue, fail to realise that governments all over the world, including ours and more importantly, the United States of America, had roundly condemned the mean-spirited movie. That is to say, they didn’t like it one bit either. The film wasn’t even put together by the government, just one or two intellectually vacant people, one of whom is of questionable character.

But far from just the lack of realisation that most of the West and its governments had said that the film was horrible and at the very least in poor taste and at the most, downright offensive to Islam, the actions themselves were well out of proportion to any amount of offense caused.

As for the Twitter and other social media commentary in the wake of the events of the last week, again a vocal minority blew events out of proportion, trying to link the messy visuals to the whole Muslim population. Clearly that’s not the case.  If any critical thought whatsoever was used by those who, frankly are frightened by difference in the first place and seek to cause fear when a small number of people representing a particular group they despise, then they would have realised the acts were not representative.

If the social media commentary wasn’t bad enough,the perennial Senator for divisive communities, Senator Cory Bernardi engaged in crass generalisations himself. The politician from South Australia, no fan of multiculturalism, attempted to argue that the protests of few, while yes, extremely awful and necessarily despised, signalled a problem with multiculturalism.

The problem in this case, as a number of commentators have pointed out, is not a problem to do with multiculturalism. It is, first and foremost, a problem more to do with human nature than anything else. As those same commentators, like Waleed Aly have pointed out, it is also partially down to disaffection, but again this does not mean that the actions of a small minority can be justified, even for a millisecond. But it does raise the need for greater cross-cultural dialogue.

If we are to truly understand each other, some of us must first learn to critically think, not give in to emotional reactions to events in the world around us. Generalisations do us no favours either.

%d bloggers like this: