On my recent trip to the UK, I noticed that a lot of kids, maybe most of the kids in the street, were wearing hoodies. These are the baggy sweatshirts with the large hoods. In conversation with my British acquaintances, I learned that hoodies are not just a youth fashion, they’re a practical means of hiding your face from the public surveillance cameras. These cameras are everywhere in Britain, and they’re not subtle. The authorities ought to know better. A hidden cam works much better than a bulky, high-profile model. Hidden cams are less threatening to kids. They’re also less insulting to law-abiding adults and more effective at catching criminals.
There is an argument that cameras should be highly visible in order to create a sense of public safety and to deter criminals from acting in the first place. It’s an argument doesn’t hold water, at least not in the circumstances peculiar to Britain. This is by far the most heavily watched society in the Western world, with well over a million closed-circuit cameras currently installed on the “high street” or downtown area of cities large and small. As shocking as it may seem to us with our Constitutional privacy rights, video surveillance has become a familiar element of British culture since the 1980’s.
Cameras are omnipresent in the UK. Everyone who walks in a high-traffic urban area is aware that there’s a good chance they’re on camera, even if most people don’t take the time to locate the camera installations. Criminals do. Muggers and pickpockets aren’t deterred by cameras, they just take steps to avoid them. They will check the area to make sure there are no cameras pointed at a particular stretch of sidewalk before they step into action. Of course, the British authorities and private surveillance firms already know about hidden cams. My view is that they should start using them much more frequently in place of the high-profile cameras.
A visible cam tries to deter crime by looking scary, but it also makes kids go around looking like medieval monks with their faces in shadow. A hidden cam is less demoralizing to the honest citizenry, and it deters crime by catching malefactors red-handed. I realize that public surveillance is in many ways a threat to civil liberties, but as long as you’re going to point a camera at the public, I suggest you do it the right way.