Save Firefly

I spy with my little eye

Here’s what I want to know. What crack were they smoking over at the P.R. department of the London police, when they decided to plaster the city with these posters?

Given that London has installed 1.5 million public-surveillance cameras — one for every 5.3 residents of the city — I suppose the police are beginning to get paranoid about their Big Brother image. They should be, particularly because, what do you know, these cameras aren’t even preventing crime. As the United Press recently noted, “murder is going on at a record pace,” and “street robbery, the very crime that CCTV is supposed to be best at deterring, will reach 50,000 this year.” Even more hilariously, studies have shown that camera operators tend to enjoy focussing in nice and close on women in tight clothing: One in ten women were scrutinized by male operators for “entirely voyeuristic reasons” that had nothing to do with law enforcement. Nice stuff.

Mind you, this hasn’t stopped the London police from pushing ahead with even more demented surveillance devices — including “Cromatica” software that will attempt to predict when a crime is about to take place, by analyzing the activity on screen.

But who in god’s name thought this “Watchful Eyes” poster would make the public feel better? As Corey Doctorow at boing boing wrote about them, “It’s like the cover of an old Ace Double paperback about watchful, tyrannical aliens.”

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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