Sitting in Mojo’s in Dunedin last weekend, sheltering from wind and rain, a chance glance at the ceiling revealed the ominous black perspex globe hiding a security camera.
It made me wonder: Was it on? and Who was it pointing at? and What would happen to the footage it was collecting? Is the recent culture of “employee monitoring” -by-camera an issue for the wider public (as well as employees), and what’s happening to the spaces we think of as public, when images gained from them are privatised?
New Zealand’s cities and its public spaces (commercial and civic) are increasingly breeding cameras which watch us. Last year, for example, seven new cameras spouted in the Cuba Mall area, aimed at party hot-spots. Buses all have cameras inside and outside. I think I must have been shot at least 20 times today. Even the kebab shop has one!!
Worryingly, the privacy commissioner, when asked last year, admitted that aspects of CCTV use was “hazy” – but that her office was developing national guidelines, which were released in October last year. This is great – but how many people know about these, and how many of us look up at ceilings anyway? The guidelines require simple things like signposting cameras – but when was the last time you saw a notice warning you that you were being filmed? Maybe at a bank – but not at the architecture school or the kebab shop.
It’s begining to seem like most shops and most private public spaces (I’m thinking of Wellington airport, for example) – places which used to be owned by us, but are now owned by private companies – have security cameras. In England the debate has probably been going longer than here, and it seems that their commerical owners of surveillance cameras are apparently a law unto themselves.
It’s certainly an issue for debate in terms of what we want our public spaces to be. Perhaps in this Facebook, Celeb-cultured world we should cherish the fact we are constantly under the camera’s eye. It was a point made by protestors of the Search and Surveillance Bill aiming their faux-surveillance at National Party politicians. But that anxiety (the Search and Surveillance Bill), even if not the proliferation of security cameras, has very recently been deferred … for the moment anyway.