Mal Fletcher comments on technology creep and it's consquences

Mal Fletcher
Mal Fletcher

'The privacy and dignity of our citizens,' wrote William O. Douglas, 'are being whittled away by sometimes imperceptible steps.'

'Taken individually, each step may be of little consequence. But when viewed as a whole, there begins to emerge a society quite unlike any we have seen.'

This is at the heart of what will continue to be a defining area of debate for the next decade; a debate focused on privacy and freedom of speech - and their relationship with ever more ubiquitous digital technologies.

A cornerstone of the debate will be what I, for want of a better term, call 'technology creep' - the gradual introduction of new uses for specific technologies, which have never been approved by the public.

The British Government's Community Secretary Eric Pickles announced last week that CCTV 'spy cars' will be banned under new government moves aimed at enticing motorists back to dying town centres.

Since 2012, roving vans fitted with CCTV cameras have been used by local councils to enforce parking regulations. This was never part of the civic contract when CCTV was first 'sold' to the public.

CCTV was introduced to Britain's streets and shopping centres to help prevent crime - particularly violent crime.

Despite the fact that Britain is now one of the most CCTV-laden countries in the world, with one camera for every 14 people in its urban centres, a 2009 internal police study showed that just one crime is solved for every thousand cameras across London.

Yet spy cars have become a favourite of many local councils because they bring in ten times as much revenue as stationary cameras on their own.

When street cameras were introduced nobody ever mentioned using them to identify parking infringements, much less fitting them to cars.

Not long ago, parents in parts of inner London were shocked to learn that street cameras were being used to record minor breaches of parking laws outside schools.

Parents were being fined for illegal parking, when most were stopping only for a minute or two to pick up their children. This in areas where no alternative, safe parking was provided.

None of us wants to find our way to appointments blocked by parents who, in some cases, just can't be bothered organising a car-share for the school run.

However, heavy-handed responses from local authorities are even more bothersome because of their potential to produce a domino effect.