It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time”

I awoke this morning to the news that Charlottetown City Police is to install “somewhere between 60 and 80 video cameras” in my neighbourhood to, it says, “assist in the protection of the public.”

While it may be intellectually lazy to quote 1984 at the drop of a hat, it would appear that this is one situation where it is unfortunately appropriate:

The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

Which is to say: what’s missing from the police department’s triangulation is the oppressive effects on the residents of downtown Charlottetown resulting from the the feeling of being constantly under surveillance.

No matter your feelings about the police – generally I’m happy they’re there, and I’ve always received pleasant, helpful service from them when I’ve had to call – and no matter whether the crime-reducing claims police make for the cameras are true or false, there are more important, larger issues at play here that deserve consideration.

Deputy Police Chief Gary McGuigan is quoted as saying “They are not hidden surveillance cameras. People will be able to see them and know that they’re there.”  Which is surely the issue: having a camera pointed at you wherever you go, a camera that’s obvious and all-seeing, is precisely the chill that Orwell was warning us about.

This move is an egregious violation of our civil liberties, and yet it appears to have proceeded without any opportunity for public debate or comment.

Set all lofty philosophizing aside: moves like this make Charlottetown a less livable city, a city I am now forced to think twice about my decision to call home.

If you feel similarly, I encourage you to let public officials know: Councillor Jason Coady is chair of the Protective and Emergency Services Committee and you can write to him, with copies to the Mayor and to Ward One Councillor Eddie Rice, at P.O. Box 98, Charlottetown, PE, C1A 7K2. I’ve sent my own letter off this morning.


Charles's picture
Charles on August 7, 2015 - 08:30 Permalink

Well, first, there is a big difference between someone putting a camera inside of your house and putting one on the corner of University and Kent. I don't think there is any issue with putting these in the middle of the city around the bars and such, but I'm not sure that putting them in residential neighbourhoods is okay. No once has an expectation of privacy when they are walking down a public street, but they do when they are out in their front yard.

oliver b's picture
oliver b on August 10, 2015 - 20:26 Permalink

I guess the main thing about video versus voice recordings and call logs, is that we're instantly identifiable in them to anyone who would see. Of course, we're told not just anybody can view just any recording, but that's not comforting enough. In tv documentaries they digitially anonymize faces, which makes me think they could encrypt the faces in surveillance in real time as the images are captured. Then maybe like the NSA says it does with phone records, only mindless computers would be doing the facial recognition (using the encryption key)--unless the mindless computers flag a record as significant, because say a crime and a suspect of a certain description was reported to have occurred when and where the video was recorded. Not that this would instantly neutralize the troubling feeling of being always on camera, but I wonder if we would/should be OK with it then.