CCTV is watching me!

Erin Roof

I was having what you could call a “bad day.” I just arrived in the Milan central train station to find the only ATM machine broken. Standing outside on the sidewalk, the reality began to sink in: I had no money, no idea which bus to take to my hostel and I was all alone. Then, in between the mass of oversexed Italian men hooting and shouting what I assumed were derogatory statements at me, I saw the offense.

Across the street, a pair of the oversexed Italian loiterers were in the middle of a very serious fist fight. It looked like at least one of them was going to leave without a face or some kind of appendage. Seconds later, another man bolted past me with a woman’s handbag dangling from his arm – a police officer turned the corner, chasing him a few meters away.

I was beginning to really hate Milan.

When I finally arrived at my hostel, disheveled, frazzled and a little bit stinky, I told my horror story to the receptionist. He assured me, despite my less than stellar first impression, that Milan was actually a very safe city.

Why? Da-da-da-dum-CCTV to the rescue!

CCTV, closed-circuit television, cameras had recently been installed throughout the city. Proponents of the technology hail CCTV as a strong deterrent to crime. Thieves and rapists and mass-murdering puppy killers roaming the streets are supposed to be too afraid to commit their crimes knowing they will be caught on camera. But that didn’t seem to stop the purse snatcher or the violent thugs outside the train station.

UK indie-rockers Hard- Fi sing in their song “Stars of CCTV”: “Every move that I make/ Gets recorded to tape/ So somebody up there/ Can keep me safe.” If my experience in Milan gave any inkling into the effect of CCTV, I would say Hard-Fi is wrong. CCTV isn’t keeping anyone safer.

The technology grew in popularity as England reacted to IRA bombings. Now London is equipped with more than half a million CCTV cameras monitoring the streets. Yet, this didn’t stop last year’s bombing of the London Underground – it just allowed the authorities to see the terrorists’ mugs on tape during the massacre.

CCTV is a perfect example of people trading privacy to keep up an air of security. But this real-life Truman Show is a little too creepy for me. Much of our daily lives are caught on camera these days. There are CCTV cameras operating in the grocery store and the bank, on traffic lights and our places of work, in the mall and on the street. It seems impossible to grab a gallon of milk without your just-rolled-out-of-bed hairdo captured for posterity on at least fifty different cameras.

Pretty soon governments will begin to install CCTV cameras inside every home and will pay people to monitor our morning exercises, just like in George Orwell’s 1984. But until then, remember every time you step out of your front door to put on those pearls and those fancy dress pants. Smile for the cameras. They’re watching you.

Erin Roof is a senior magazine journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Like Hard-Fi, she is “living for the weekend.”