15 May, 2007

SurveillanceRichard had never noticed the CCTV camera at the end of his road before. It was just an ordinary suburban street, not a shopping centre or anything. So why would there be a CCTV camera there?

On the other hand it looks as if it had been there for a while. It was dirty from the rain and there was an orange rust stain on the wall where a bracket held it in place.

The camera moved towards Richard. He hated it when they did that because you never knew why. Perhaps it was programmed to automatically scan the street several times a minute. Or perhaps a smart computer program had recognised the license plate of a passing car, or the face of a known petty criminal, or some other clue a computer could recognise. Or maybe there was a human operator somewhere who had just told the CCTV camera to focus on Richard’s face.

Richard turned and walked away quickly, but not so quickly it would look suspicious. How quickly would look suspicious anyway? He knew he had done nothing wrong, but he felt guilty anyway. He wanted to appear innocent, which he was damn it, but he suspected that “trying to look innocent” was about the most suspicious thing a person could do. He got the same feeling going through customs in airports. He always felt aware of the customs officer watching him, the armed anti-terror police and the dog handlers. It made him sweat and look at his feet, and forget how to walk normally. It was an enormous relief to get through without being arrested and fingerprinted and searched and all the dark things he felt must happen to suspected drug smugglers and terrorists.

There were more CCTV cameras at the end of every street. Had they always been there? Richard couldn’t remember noticing them before, but he wasn’t certain they hadn’t been, either. Were they all turning as he went past, or was he just imagining things now? It would be a relief to get on the bus away from the cameras.

There was a camera at the bus stop. Well that made sense, they were always being vandalised and really it would be a good thing if the cameras deterred the little thugs from smashing the glass and ripping up the seats. And that was what CCTV cameras were for, wasn’t it? They were there to prevent crime, and help catch criminals. He should be glad of them really, because he had nothing to hide. But he still didn’t like the feeling of being watched.

There was quite a queue at the bus stop and the first bus that came was almost full, so Richard wasn’t able to get on. He waited for the next bus as the queue grew longer again, full of women with prams, people listening to music on headphones which let out a “tish tish tish” sound, and others tapping on mobile phones with their thumbs. Even the mobile phones all had cameras in nowadays and you never knew if you were being photographed or not. Richard’s girlfriend sometimes complained about perverts who tried to take photos of her legs or up her skirt when she sat on the train, and you couldn’t tell because you just thought they were sending a message to their friends. Richard had thought she sounded a bit paranoid and hadn’t worried about it, until now. He could see three different camera phones just at this bus stop, all pointing at him. The bus came, quite empty this one, and Richard chose a seat upstairs, away from the camera-phone people.

Richard liked sitting upstairs on the bus. When he was a child his mother had never let him. But sometimes when he was travelling with his dad they would sit upstairs at the front, and pretend they were fighter pilots. They’d take in turns who was driving and who was gunner, and shoot down enemy cars (green ones and Volvos) and enemy soldiers (policemen and traffic wardens) and bomb bridges and so on. And when dad got tired of that Richard would pull faces in the parabolic mirror which reflected down a sort of periscope so the driver could see if anyone was causing trouble upstairs. There was no parabolic mirror there today, but a sort of hemisphere of darkened glass. Was there a CCTV camera inside that? Richard couldn’t tell. He couldn’t remember when the mirrors had been replaced by these hemispheres. If there was a camera, where did the picture go? Was it a little monitor in the driver’s cab, just a high-tech version of the old periscope? And was it recorded on tape or disc? Or was it beamed to a control centre somewhere? Richard tried not to stare at the black half-globe and found it as difficult as not staring at deformed people in the street, or as difficult as walking through customs nonchalantly.

The bus arrived and it was only a short walk now to Richard’s office. The route however took him through the middle of the city, and here there really were CCTV cameras everywhere. They were on every street corner, on the doorways of all the shops, there were traffic cameras in the road and even a large police CCTV van. Richard knew the van wasn’t following him but the rush hour traffic was sluggish and whenever the van managed to get ahead of him the traffic always seemed to stop and Richard would be forced to walk slightly ahead of it once more. In any case, he thought those vans had cameras at the back as well as the front. The windows were all made of tinted glass so you couldn’t see.

He arrived at his building and hurried through the lobby with its CCTV camera. With great relief he hung up his coat and headed straight for the coffee machine. He was going to need a drink to calm his nerves after that journey. Armed with a cup of coffee and a Kit-Kat from the machine he settled down at his desk and turned his PC on.

He was quite certain that webcam had not been attached to his PC the day before.