Recently in the media I recognised that public Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) surveillance has become part of the new national security and crime-fighting initiatives currently being undertaken by the Guyana government. I must commend those in the government responsible for taking this bold step at revolutionizing the way in which Guyanese law enforcement will be effected.
For those not familiar with how this kind of technology functions, CCTV video surveillance systems can either passively record and play back silent video at certain intervals, be actively monitored by security personnel, or use a combination of these methods. In the US and many other countries around the world, Law enforcement personnel actively monitor most municipally-operated systems, although in some cases volunteers and private security are also involved in some projects.
There are even school-based CCTV surveillance systems in some countries that also employ active, passive, and combined monitoring methods, depending on the financial resources and number and type of personnel available.
Many European countries now employ public video surveillance as a primary tool to monitor population movements and to prevent terrorism. The United Kingdom (UK) in particular relies extensively on video surveillance as a tool to fight crime and prevent terrorism. According to some researchers, the camera surveillance systems in the UK are discouraging and thus preventing crime. After the recent riots in London, many persons were arrested based on video footage sourced from CCTV cameras strategically placed around London.
A key player in the CCTV camera arena is facial recognition software. This expedites the identification process of persons captured on CCTV footage. Based on the establishment of a country’s information data base, and the level of security clearance of the persons using the software, basic or very detailed information about the person identified can be sourced.
That Guyana is heading in the direction of using CCTV surveillance is a step in the right direction. In these modern times, especially with widespread terrorism and the sophistication and frequency of crime, many countries around the world embrace the use of this technology.
Upon conducting some research I found that Canada began operating CCTV video surveillance on public streets and areas in the early ’90s. Although its use is not as widespread as in the United Kingdom, CCTV surveillance is utilised by Canadian banks, restaurants and convenience stores, and at industrial sites, offices, apartment buildings, and public transit stations.
The French government permits electronic and CCTV surveillance in public places, including the monitoring of major roads and city and urban public areas. In Ireland, CCTV video surveillance has been used by private companies since the mid-1980s to monitor post offices, shops, banks, building societies, and shopping malls.
In Spain, the threat of terrorist attacks has caused extraordinary security measures to be taken by federal authorities, especially in tourist areas. The Spanish Interior Ministry also installed video surveillance equipment in public areas in the Basque region in an effort to combat street violence and politically motivated vandalism.
Even the principality of Monaco with its 500,000 inhabitants is monitored 24 hours a day by CCTV camera surveillance installed on buildings, rooftops, and street poles.
Are these countries “surveillance states”?
Are Guyanese living in developed countries around the world complaining about CCTV cameras? When members of APNU travel abroad are they really concerned that ‘big brother’ is watching their every move?
CCTV cameras serve a very valid purpose in societies that are determined to curb crime and terrorism. Guyana might not be a terrorist haven but it sure has an escalating crime rate. There must be some amount of crime that can be prevented with the use of CCTV cameras.
Studies have shown a 4% decrease in crime in neighbourhoods where CCTV has been installed. CCTV is most responsible for deterring auto thefts and has some effect on violent crimes. Evidence from the UK also shows that its use may reduce the theft of motor vehicles and some other forms of acquisitive crime. There is also evidence that it works best in small enclosed areas.
Regardless of the sophisticated technology employed to fight crime, basic law enforcement principles and procedures must prevail. The Guyana Police Force (GPF) or whichever national intelligence agency is established must be able to use the information garnered from CCTV footage responsibly. Professional law enforcement must be administered with the protection of Guyanese citizens as its major priority.
In all things there are consequences and unintended consequences. It is a pity that the APNU apparently can only emphasise the unintended consequences that might result from the establishment of modern crime-fighting infrastructure and legislation. Perhaps strategically engaging the government in a manner that ensures severe measures are in place to avoid the abuse of its new crime-fighting technologies and accompanying legislation might be more constructive.