See You:

The Video Surveillance Controversy

They are absolutely everywhere - on the streets, in the stores and even at the workplace. Usually, they're encased in black domes or protected by a thick metal box. Whatever their placement or appearance may be, surveillance cameras can be used to capture the most public or private moments of our lives. And most of us are entirely unaware of this invasion.

Statistically, citizens of major cities are photographed by surveillance cameras an average of 300 times per day. For the most part, these cameras are owned by private companies concerned about protecting their property. The remaining cameras are mostly operated and controlled by various levels of law enforcement. While the intentions of these organizations may be noble, it is the moral issues associated with this loss of privacy that makes video surveillance such a fervently debated topic.

One of the most prominent figures in these debates is activist Bill Brown. His main contribution to the anti-surveillance argument is a series of weekly walking tours in New York City. Accompanied by a handful of concerned tourists and citizens, Brown strolls around the bustling streets of New York, pointing out up to 258 surveillance cameras in Times Square. He is also a founding member of The Surveillance Camera Players, a group that performs politically motivated 'street plays' under the watchful eye of security cameras.

However, this omnipresent, Orwellian "Big Brother" is not confined to the sidewalks and streets of our cities. In any major department store, black domes - housing surveillance cameras - can be seen dotting the ceiling. In every fast food restaurant, convenience store, or gas station, security cameras are trained on the area surrounding the cash register. Contained in every Automated Teller Machine is a camera focused on the client. Surveillance cameras are even installed in offices and workplaces, instilling paranoia within employees, but keeping them diligent and accountable.

Though, it is not the purpose of surveillance cameras that is the problem. Preventing crime and keeping employees industrious are perfectly acceptable endeavours. However, it is when these efforts cross the line into personal privacy that social morality is compromised. Residential surveillance is becoming more prominent by the day, as families take to spying on each other and those who enter their homes. More frightening, perhaps, is the educational system's use of video surveillance. Many schools now use cameras to watch over hallways, offices, libraries, and cafeterias, creating an entirely authoritarian environment. In turn, this eliminates the supportive atmosphere that a school should possess.

A balance is required when it comes to video surveillance - somewhere between security and invasion. Every individual has the right to anonymity and privacy in leading their personal lives. The progression of invasive surveillance measures only gnaws away at this right. Our society is quickly becoming separated into 'watcher' and 'watched' - the hunter and the hunted. This separation only gives authoritative power to those who need not possess it, and makes the rest of us paranoid and fearful. And in a world that already forces too much anxiety upon us, fear is something that certainly does not need to be everywhere.

(Written by Graham Silnicki and published in What Magnet.)

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