At the recent 142nd passing out parade of Police officers at the Regional Police Training Centre, the guest of honor, Sir David Simmons, spoke to effectiveness of technology in Policing and crime prevention. One of those technologies is the use of Public Closed Circuit Television (CCTV). Sir David noted that his research pointed to statistics which showed there was a reduction in crime and an increase in the number of crimes solved with the effective use of CCTV.
The thrust of my column today is not [about] CCTVs but a related thought [I had] as I listened to Sir David’s address. Before speaking to that thought, I want to share a bit more research done with regard to CCTVs:
“Millions of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras are installed in streets and businesses throughout the world with the stated goal of reducing crime and increasing public safety. The United Kingdom is one of the most enthusiastic proponents, with an estimated 1.9 million cameras in 2011 — one for every 32 U.K. residents — and the number continues to rise. Chicago reportedly has at least 15,000 cameras installed in one of the largest U.S. networks — which has prompted civil liberties groups to express strong concerns — while in New York, cameras are increasingly found both on public transit [and] in businesses and even high-end residences. The 9/11 attacks led many municipalities to start installing CCTV systems, but sometimes what’s put in place goes beyond the original mandate: For example, Oakland, Calif., took $7 million of federal money intended for safeguarding its port and is using it to create a citywide surveillance system instead.
According to industry estimates, the global video surveillance market [was] expected to grow from $11.5 billion in 2008 to $37.7 billion in 2015. A 2013 New York Times/CBS poll found that 78 per cent of respondents supported the use of surveillance cameras in public places, and authorities tend to point to spectacular successes — for example, crucial images cameras provided of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects or the identification of those responsible for the 2005 London attacks.”
Barbados has [conducted] limited installations of CCTVs in Bridgetown and other high trafficked areas and I am sure these cameras have brought success to law enforcement in their crime prevention efforts.
In my neighborhood, several homes have cameras installed in and around their properties which have been used to review criminal activities in the area, helping neighbors and the Police to observe those who have malicious intent. Smart phones have also helped to capture images of persons who engage in illicit activities resulting in their apprehension by the law.
What therefore were my thoughts as Sir David spoke to the use of CCTV and the prevention and reduction of crime?
Back in 2014, in a Washington Times story, a new surveillance system that collects and records information in real time was hailed as a sort of “God’s eye” for intelligence and law enforcement agencies. It is interesting that such terminology was being used with 21st century technology. The analysts of these emerging technologies in surveillance were linking their capabilities with elements of the divine watchfulness. The movies Furious 7 and Fate of the Furious introduced as well the concept of the “God’s Eye” – a device that is able to hack any type of technology using a camera and can locate any person anywhere in the world. [It sounds] a bit far fetched but could be possible in the near future.
Of course, as a person of faith, I accept that nothing man-made can equal in any way to the immense, unmatched and limitless power of the Creator. What humans try to achieve are capabilities that mimic such powers. In my [opinion], we won’t come close but we will increase our knowledge of science and technology the more we investigate, enquire, test and ponder over the innumerable wonders and capacities of this created universe.
Most religions and all the Abrahamic faiths have as a cornerstone of their beliefs the concept that Almighty God is Omniscient. This concept is thought by practitioners of faith to the young and old alike. It is a belief system that has allowed believers to live their lives conscious of the fact that God is watching over their affairs. For many, this belief [makes them] aware of the consequences of [individual] actions and have tended to keep them on the “straight and narrow”. Human beings, [as is their nature], will forget the power of their Creator to know all they do and engage in undesirable actions. But this belief system ultimately causes remorse.
It is this understanding of accountability to a higher power that drives humans spiritually and provides those checks and balances that help make good people.
So my thoughts are that technology has, after centuries, caught up with the faith-inspired human beings who recognize that every action on their part is recorded. But technology can in no way catch up with the Divine power.
The recent investigations surrounding Facebook and its access to and use of millions of subscribers’ personal information also bring into focus the way technology and social media [can] make every aspect of a person’s life known to others. What [you] may construe as trivial bits of information and insignificant could very well be used to profile you by software, statistics and psychometric analysis. All [can be] used to judge your character. In fact, providing such data represents a multimillion dollar industry today for database marketers and huge companies.
As Dr. David Lyon, a Canadian sociologist, writes in his piece titled God’s eye: Surveillance and watchfulness in the twenty-first century,”: “In other words, each time we assume that some minor recorded event or exchange – using a credit card, checking a website, using a mobile phone – is trivial, we contribute to the unchecked growth of the surveillance society.”
The debate continues about who, what and how much we want surveillance on. Reducing/preventing crimes and catching criminals [more easily] are laudable goals of surveillance. However, that thin line of intrusion into one’s personal space is often crossed when surveillance at all levels is seen as a necessary tool and a means to an end.
Persons of faith will attest to a knowledge and belief that the Creator is all-seeing and as such will recognize that surveillance of a much higher order is already taking place.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace. Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)