Surveillance and the contradictions of our liberal media

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Is the liberal media horribly hypocritical? That was David Goodhart’s contention on Friday, in the panel discussion we co-hosted about ‘Orwell, ID cards, the citizen and the State’.

At the same time as publishing masses of editorials lambasting the government’s plans to collect information on individuals, Goodhart said, papers like the Guardian run frequent news stories about convictions secured by CCTV cameras or DNA evidence.

The trouble with social democrats, Goodhart continued, is the lack of consistency in their arguments. You can’t argue for a national welfare state with special benefits for its citizens and then argue that its citizens need provide no information in return. If you’re a genuine civil libertarian and want a tiny State then fine, oppose ID cards. But you can’t have both big government and absolute freedom, says the editor of Prospect.

Not shy of being controversial, Goodhart went further, arguing that we don’t have nearly enough CCTV cameras, and that instead of an ID card scheme we should just go straight to biometric testing and each be given an ID number / barcode. Sounds more like Minority Report than 1984.

To test some of his claims I had a quick search through broadsheet coverage of CCTV cameras over the last year. He’s right about the editorials. Lots of pro civil liberty arguments in Guardian / Observer / Independent. But less right about CCTV and convictions – there aren’t many articles praising the value of CCTV footage. What there are mind you, are a number of articles about alleged police racism after officers have been caught on camera (‘Scotland Yard caught up in race row… police sargeant recorded saying Somalian needs a “good beating”‘, 7/7/07; certain Greater Manchester police alleged to be member of BNP based on CCTV footage, 8/5/07).

Surveilance policing the police. Does a double negative make a positive?

Written by Martin Moore

December 3rd, 2007 at 1:34 pm

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