Who's watching you?

Who's watching you?

The last 15 years has seen a proliferation of CCTV cameras to the extent that we simply accept them as part of the street furniture, but who's watching and why do we need so many?

We live in a time of paranoia where photographers are stopped from taking images in public places, yet by using one of a number of simple search terms, thousands of unprotected CCTV cameras around the world can be accessed, and in many cases controlled. 

Is this something we should be so accepting of, or is it time to question this need for constant monitoring and double standards?

I embarked on this project with some trepidation having no idea what the search terms would come up with – what if I accessed something top secret or witnessed a crime?

However, far from showing all the drama of human life, the vast majority of the images were incredibly boring – nothing happened (or maybe the cameras had served their preventative purpose and all the drama was happening elsewhere!)

And while many cameras were in the places you’d expect - traffic cams, car parks and public squares and streets, I was struck by the number of cameras in semi-public places: libraries, bars, colleges and universities as well as a surprising number in the workplace.

Many of the cameras allowed full control - I could pan, zoom, focus and ‘take’ the shot, or screen grab at the moment of my choosing. Not only was this worrying in that they could be used to pan and zoom on places and people they shouldn’t, (see the series in the college library), it also raised questions for me as to the nature of photography:  are my stolen images any less photography than someone using a fully automatic camera and taking a picture from a designated panorama point at a beauty spot.

Does photography demand a presence or are photographs taken using appropriated cameras controlled from another country in another time zone just as valid as ‘created’ images? 

The results of this project so far can be seen on the following page:

These images were taken by setting up access to a selection of cameras and taking a picture at the top of the hour from midnight to midnight. The most interesting thing that happened in most sequences was night turning to day and back again.

Further Reading

BBC: Surveillance camera code of practice comes into force 

Nova Surveillance Video

BBC: How to Hack a Nation's Infrastructure 

Surveillance and Society

The Information Commissioner's Office: CCTV Guide for Organisations

The Guardian: CCTV Boom has Failed to Slash Crime, Say Police

The Guardian: Can householders Use  CCTV to Film the Public Highway as Well as Their Homes?

Home Office: Assessing the impact of CCTV

No CCTV - Campaigning Against Camera Surveillance in the UK

Welsh schools slammed for filming children without parents' consent