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Body Worn Video Steering Group

As Above, So Below: Surveillance and Sousveillance

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The Troubles’ refers to the Northern Irish conflict that originated in the 1960’s resulting in a great deal of violence over a number of years, before generally being accepted as ending with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. During this time, a fortified perimeter known as the ‘ring of steel’ was built to protect Belfast from potential attack in volatile times.

Surveillance Sousveillance Steven Mann Body Worn Video

The name ‘Ring of Steel’ later referred to the 3 square km City of London, which is covered by a large network of CCTV, often inaccurately quoted as having half-a-million surveillance cameras. The ring of static CCTV is designed to work in tandem with a road network specifically created with narrow roads and chicanes to slow-down, and capture drivers for anti-terrorism purposes. Such an attack was noted as “inevitable” in a police report, showing how the ‘ring of steel’ was a direct result of this claim.

In more recent years, the step towards body worn video has meant that some fear an increased surveillance state both in and outside of London; domestically and abroad.

Until 2014, body worn camera use rose steadily but not exponentially, before exploding on the international scene after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, August 2014. Meanwhile, the term ‘sousveillance’  was coined by researcher and inventor Steve Mann, defined as:

‘bringing the camera or other means of observation down to human level, either physically (mounting cameras on people rather than on buildings), or hierarchically (ordinary people doing the watching, rather than higher authorities or architectures doing the watching).’

The death of Eric Garner is an example of “citizens capturing their ordinary day-to-day life activities and uncovering crimes that have previously escaped capture by surveillance that looks only “from above.” Clearly, there is value in looking in all directions”, which Mann wrote in his explanatory sousveillance article.

This stems from the idea that many public citizens own a camera capable mobile phone, and can use this to document various occurrences, potentially capturing incriminating evidence. Such is the aim of police issue body worn video cameras, the point is not to ‘police the police’ from the top-down, but use video as a tool to aid the fight against crime and create transpareny and trust with the community.

For example, the recent Chelsea football club racism incident in Paris was filmed by a member of the public and will no doubt lead to repercussions for those in the wrong. In instances such as these, where police body worn video cameras were not present, it is clearly a valuable action members of the public to feel responsible for, and support those who work tirelessly to protect the wider community when not always available, or equipped with body cameras.

Some advocate for sousveillance as a method of ‘undersight’, the inverse of ‘oversight’ used by the authorities, with a grounding in a ‘public vs. authority’ attitude. Unfortunately, a small minority of those in positions of responsibility do abuse their power, however both the public and 99.9% of police worldwide share a mutual ambition to eradicate such people from their ranks, as well as crime in general.

One famous Australian case where an officer used a personal body camera to capture an incident where he was rushed at with a knife, before fatally shooting the suspect, saw body cameras be described as “the modern day officer’s notebook”. The capturing of the event resulted in no discrepancies as it was clear what absolute fact was leading to, and warranting of, the unfortunate loss of life in this instance.

All in all body cameras may still be rejected by those envisaging an Orwellian 1984, yet in this version the power remains with the public, supported by the police (themselves consisting of members of the public), which only exist with public consent to protect their community – a foundation of the Peelian Principles. Where one is without the other, video footage is undeniably valuable for working to the common goal of a unified, safe society.

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