The admissions from the Metropolitan Police this week about the Ian Tomlinson case, where an officer was found to have used unauthorised and unnecessary force which led to the newspaper seller’s death a few years ago, mark an interesting turning point in our video-surveillance society. Whilst the UK has become one of the most videoed nations on earth, the footage of the incident recorded by a member of the public was the key to finding justice.
The tools that have been in the more-or-less exclusive hands of the authorities for a few decades have been, it seems, democratised (or possibly anarchised).
Whilst at times it may seem that we have entered into a real life incarnation of Orwell’s dystopian 30-year old future, with screens all around us and cameras too (with increasing numbers of cameras built into those screens) the Tomlinson case gives hope that it’s not big brother watching us, but all of us being able to watch out for each other. That of course is not the same at all as us just watching each other- that too was part of 1984’s totalitarianism.
So here’s a thought. What if all of those CCTV cameras were made open. An open API to give us “StreetView Live”? Given the vast amount of smart phone footage uploaded to video sharing services on a daily basis, it’s only the static cameras these days that aren’t publicly accessible.
A good deal of the CCTV infrastructure has been publically funded, so why doesn’t it form part of the Open Government Data initiatives? I’m sure many would be repulsed by the idea (to an extent I am myself) but given that half the population in the UK are now toting smartphone, wouldn’t “official” footage be better in the public domain from the get go?