Freedom in Germany: Part III - Video surveillance


The novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four" of George Orwell was written in 1948 and is the reference book for surveillance state fiction.
It depicts a (socialistic) world of total population surveillance and control. Every (normal) household has a TV set that runs all the time and also has an integral camera to observe even private behaviour.

This horror vision was a warning call about totalitarian regimes.

Today we experience a previously unimaginable mystery; we realize earlier horror ideas from movies and novels. The camera surveillance of public places is well-established in Germany.
We've got several hundred thousand cameras watching us while shopping, in pedestrian areas and on other lively roads - but also when we just go past a shop or bank.
The exact quantity is unknown as there's apparently no requirement to register a public zone camera. The estimates that I saw varied from about 400k to 800k.

The British show us how far the surveillance craze can go; they're having about half a million CCTV cameras in London alone, and apparently more than four million in the whole UK.
That's certainly something that should be avoided - especially as crime doesn't cease to exist due to CCTV. CCTV pushes the planned crimes into non-observed areas and slightly helps police and prosecuting attorneys against criminals who committed their crime in the heat of the moment. The UK is still a nation with high crime rates - even after giving up the freedom of being not observed by millions of cameras.

Many cameras are inactive or provide only low resolution and are therefore almost useless despite their outward appearance. The use of the video feeds is another shortcoming of the surveillance society - there aren't enough pairs of eyes watching the videos to make good use of them.
The real surveillance nightmare was already announced, though: High resolution video cameras, huge data storage capabilities to save video feeds of months, no days and especially software and computing power to analyze the videos cost-effectively with machines. It has already begun, but more about that later.

My father was policeman for decades, and his opinion about how to fight crime was as simple as convincing: More resources to the detectives.
The success rate of German SOKO ("Sonderkommission"; special ad hoc commissions for the investigation of major crimes) is in excess of 95%.
The police cannot fight crime effectively when it doesn't get the necessary resources. Often times it cannot even do a proper crime scene investigation in crimes like burglary. Crimes like car theft, bike theft and malicious mischief often only launch an administrative reaction, not a real investigation. The detectives are in some areas so much overworked that ill-trained uniformed policemen are tasked with basic crime scene investigation - the effectiveness is very poor, as the detectives know later very little about the crime and can do little more than administer the file.

The subjective feeling of insecurity sometimes provokes publicity stunts by politicians, like more uniformed police patrols or even policemen wearing submachineguns in public. Especially popular is also to push junkies away from established meeting points in public to less public, new meeting points with harassment (or cameras).
The objective security effect of such stunts is rather negative because patrolling becomes an inefficient use of manpower at a certain threshold.

Cameras operated by public authorities and in buses/trams are publicity stunts as well. The effect is marginal.

Real crime-fighting is about investigation with well-equipped and well-trained teams backed up by a healthy amount of basic patrolling and quick response to emergency calls.
Total surveillance is not necessary and no guarantee for security. It sacrifices freedom and potentially gives control to evil governments.
Let's be honest; there's no nature's law that we will always be able to trust our government.

Sven Ortmann

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