London's Privacy Falling DownBy Julia Scheeres
Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/privacy/0,1848,56152,00.html
02:00 AM Nov. 02, 2002 PT
Attention Londoners: Big Bobby is watching.
That's the message of posters plastered along London's bus routes earlier this week to assuage riders' crime fears.
But the posters are having the opposite effect on privacy advocates, who say the artwork is creepily reminiscent of the all-seeing authority described in George Orwell's 1984.
The posters show a red double-decker bus crossing a bridge as four floating eyes stare down from the sky. The eyes' pupils are the symbol of Transport For London, the city's mass-transit provider.
"Secure beneath the watchful eyes," the poster says. "CCTV and Metropolitan Police on buses are just two ways we're making your journey more secure."
The eyes-in-the-sky imagery startled Perry de Havilland, who ran across one of the posters at a bus stop in his Chelsea neighborhood.
"I saw the bloody thing, and it boggled my mind, the sheer audacity of it," said de Havilland, who runs a blog on libertarian issues. "Basically what they're saying is that we're watching you and you should be happy about it."
De Havilland's observations about the poster have generated a lively discussion.
The posters had a similar effect on Simon Davies, the head of Privacy International, who also lives in London.
"I thought it was a powerful piece of political satire from a disruptive citizen's group, but then it dawned on me that they were real," Davies said. "It's acutely disturbing."
The posters are part of a larger campaign to make London buses safer for riders, a spokeswoman for the Transport For London said. City officials are also installing video cameras on the city's entire fleet of buses, which log 4 million trips a day.
According to the transportation agency's website, the CCTV rollout "not only protects drivers and conductors, but (it) also plays a major role in keeping passengers secure. It provides evidence in the event of an incident and acts as a deterrent to likely offenders."
British authorities have placed great faith in CCTV as a crime control device, installing an estimated 1.5 million police cameras along the country's streets, buildings and mass transport systems. Still shots taken from video feed are used to identify protesters and hooligans.
But while the government insists CCTV has reduced crime, critics say the technology has merely displaced crime to areas without cameras and that the mechanical eyes -- which are frequently disguised -- are easily evaded by wearing baseball caps or other headgear.
"There is a mentality that everyone is potentially a criminal," said Davies. "I resent the idea that I should be subjected to the scrutiny of invisible cameras just to satisfy someone's crazed idea of that way society is."