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The policeman always knocks twice 24/7/01
They are everywhere. From the
security cameras monitoring our
movements to the nosey neighbours
monitoring our lives, everything we
do seems to be captured on video.
The police use the footage to track
down criminals while TV programmes
use it to keep us amused and informed.
It seems a long time since the concept
of Big Brother sounded dark and
menacing rather than part of light
entertainment. But when the cameras
are turned on the authorities, they
can show uncomfortable images.
It's unclear what led to this
incident on a street in Wakefield,
but what the amateur cameraman
appears to have captured is a
police officer hitting a defenceless citizen.
I was surprised by what I had seen
because there's the policeman
and he is meant to be
stopping other people from doing
this behaviour that he's just done.
Obviously, I am surprised at that.
may seem compelling, but the West
Yorkshire Police clearly think it
isn't cut and dry. As an inquiry has
been launched, they've withdrawn
the officers from public duty
rather than suspended them.
Whatever the outcome of this
incident, the fact it was captured
on camera shows that, where video
technology is concerned, our worst
fears have not been realised. In
fact, the greater accessibility of
cameras these days means we can
make them work for us rather than
against us. We expected to become
nothing more than passive, observed
subjects but rather than being
enslaved by technology, we are
increasingly empowered by it. And
for documentary makers, such as
Angus McQueen, this means filming
subjects who are increasingly
wielding cameras as well. But he doesn't
see this as threatening, he sees it as liberating.
The state can record everything
that we do in ways that we don't
really understand, and we are
certainly not in control of. And
the idea that the authorities, the
state, can be caught by all of us
with cameras that we have beside us
in our rooms every day, or in our cars
as we are driving along and we catch
Concorde taking off and blowing up,
is incredibly empowering. I can't see a
single thing I would find dangerous
about that at all.
And it's to stave off
danger that anti-capitalist
protesters are now arming
themselves with cameras. For them
the video tapes are a form of
self-defence against any possible
excesses by the forces of authority,
as well as a means of disseminating
their message quickly, via the internet.
And with amateur video footage
being used as evidence in cases
of human rights abuse, some
aid agencies see handing out
camcorders and giving training to
victims as the most effective way of
helping them to bring their oppressors to
book. But civil liberties groups
argue that video evidence is not
always on the side of the little man.
CCTV systems, they say, are still a
threat to ordinary people because
of the problems with gaining access
to the recordings.
DIRECTOR, PRIVACY INTERNATIONAL
The problem that we face is that so
many images simply don't exist any
more - either they are not captured
because the technology doesn't work
or the operators are instructed not
to capture the images in the first
place, because of potential embarrassment,
or perhaps because the images have
a criminal implication they are expunged
from the system. Who watches the
watchers? Who determines how these
systems operate, who controls the
images, whether the images are misused?
Those are the questions that as civil
libertarians we have to answer.
While these police officers in Bedford
were convicted on the basis of this
evidence, the victim's father says
it was a struggle to get hold of the tape.
But in the end he managed and, for
better or for worse, the video camera
is now a fundamental tool in the
search for justice.
We're joined by Gillian Caldwell,
who's a lawyer and director of Witness.org,
also by Roddy Mansfield, journalist and
founder of Undercurrents, which makes
films about grassroots activism, and Wendy
Grossman, author - From Anarchy to Power:
the Net Comes of Age. Gillian Caldwell, tell
us what your organisation does first of all.
Witness donates video cameras to locally
based human rights activists around the
world and gives them technical and
strategic guidance as to how to use video
and communications technology to
advance their work.
I don't know how much of our film you saw,
but these pictures of a policeman apparently
hitting a suspect, do you feel giving somebody
one of those cameras empowers them?
Absolutely. In fact it was the beating of
Rodney King that galvanised international
conversation around the issue of
police brutality and inspired Peter
Gabriel, who is the founder of
Witness, to initiate the programme.
The vision was give cameras to the
people, democratise the use of technology
and, as your excerpt at the beginning
indicated, turn Big Brother on it's head
and focus the cameras on the abusers.
The reality is that the likelihood of
being present at a time when such
blatant abuse is happening is
highly unlikely and so what we're
looking at is human rights very,
very broadly defined. We're working
with activists that are trying to
address the incursion into indigenous
homelands, multi-national corporations.
We are looking at much subtler rights issues -
we're looking at child labour, the
rights of indigenous communities,
economic and social rights of refugees in
western Africa. We have moved
beyond that simple paradigm, which is catch
the abuse in action, because these
rights intersect and they are very
closely related to one another.
Roddy Mansfield, do you think that Big
Brother has been turned on its head?
Absolutely. What we've witnessed in
the last five or ten years or so has been
a monumental technological paradigm
shift inasmuch as that the tools of new
media, such as high-quality, low-cost
digital camcorders, high-quality desktop
publishing and also the internet, have
now fallen into the hands of people in
a dynamic position to make real social
The worry was that cameras
would be used by the state on motorways,
in shopping centres, and would be logging
everyone's movement and it would be
a restriction in freedom.
Sure, but I think you have to make
a definition between what a tool of social
change is and a tool of social
control. We use camcorders to actually
identify instances of police abuse
and police brutality and, as they
say, turn it on its head and use
those tapes in court when the trial
comes to court. It's not a case of
your word against mine in court any more
but your word against my video.
Wendy Grossman, where do you see the
line between social change and social control?
AUTHOR, FROM ANARCHY TO POWER
For one thing, you are talking
about a balance of power, right.
You have a country where you have
cameras all over the place now. I
think I live on one of the few
streets in Britain where there
isn't a camera. We know that people
in power do abuse that power some
of the time, we have seen it in
many individual protests. To me,
it's very clear that what these people
are doing is completely different
from the systematic surveillance of
an entire society, which seems to
be the goal at the moment.
Where do you see the balance now?
It's a good question. Nobody is quite
sure exactly where to draw the line. With
these people, you are talking about a
relatively small number of cameras
being used in a relatively
limited type of situation. With the
cameras on the motorways and in
Piccadilly Circus and in the London
Underground, you are talking about
withdrawing traditional policing
and replacing it with this surveillance
that can be called up later on anybody.
But Gillian Caldwell just used
the phrase, "Big Brother turned on
its head". You don't accept that at all?
I do. I think that's one thing the internet
has done - it has democratised all kinds
of technology. This is why we have
one guy challenging Microsoft in the
software business. You are putting things
like - if I wanted to I could stick a webcam
out my window and put my street on
the Net, but my neighbours can seriously
consider that an invasion of their privacy.
I think Wendy is bringing up an
important point. When you are
talking about access to visibility
and distribution channels and the
resources to really equip the
people to engage in effective
counter surveillance, we're not at
that point in time. I'm not trying
to pretend that the resources exist
to form realistic, incredible
oppositional movement when you have
dictatorships operating with
impunity around the world.
But Gillian, things are clearly moving.
Where do you think we'll be in five or ten
years? Will everybody be making a tape
of their own life in some way?
That's what we're trying to do. We are
trying to democratise the use of this
technology, we're trying to put low-cost
laptop editing systems, Final Cut Pro
for example, in the hands of locally
based activists and with all due respect
to the BBC, to enable people to create
their own media and tell their own stories
without being mediated via the bigger
multi-nationals corporations. I think
we're missing something. My concern
is what distribution channels exist
and will emerge in this period of
time when it's not yet clear what
venues are, what the venues are for
the material that's being generated.
Wendy Grossman, is there a civil rights
implication in that?
...in the democratisation all the technologies
she just referred to?
Of course there is, there always is.
But you're talking about - Britain
has spent something like £5 billion
in the last 15 years on constructing its
network of surveillance cameras. She's
not talking about anything like that scale.
But it's heading down the road
towards everybody being able to
make a film continuously of where
they are and what they're doing.
Do you want a filmed record of your
I haven't thought about it, but if everyone
was making one, there might be a civil
rights issue in that, on the same scale as
we're discussing now about police cameras.
There might, but there was a guy in
Cambridge, Massachusetts who went
around with a camera strapped to his
head for years, a guy named Steve Mann,
and when he went into stores where they
had surveillance cameras and pointed
his head with it's little camera at the
staff they were very unhappy. It's
one of those things where people
want it for themselves but maybe
not for other people.
I think there's - it's very difficult to
define personal privacy these days.
On the one hand, if you go to protests
such as if you are sitting in a tree at
Newbury or if you are trying to stop
a road or you are on a fox hunt, if you
go to any of those protests you will
be filmed by police, by private detective
agencies and by security guards.
They are all compiling files on activists.
That's what I call a loss of privacy.
But if you have people such as Undercurrents
or Witness.org who are filming police
abuse of power and police attacking people,
that's not a loss of privacy, that's social
justice. It's very important that we
make that distinction.
You are laughing?
I agree with him. I think there's a real
Thank you all very much indeed.