This is Great Britain, the land that gave us habeaus corpus, the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights–the land that gave us civil liberties, in essence. So it struck me as paradoxical to find, as I keenly took pictures of Trafalgar Square and Westminster, that I wasn’t the only one with the camera. Closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras are hunched atop lamp posts all across London, creating the impression that you’re never beyond Big Brother’s reach. “The average Londoner going about his or her business may be monitored by 300 CCTV cameras a day,” according to the New Statesman.

Cameras, gazing

There is, of course, a Londoner who would be mortified–were he not dead–at the sight of those white cameras gazing into the lives of the citizens of his city. George Orwell wrote of a dystopian future in his novel, 1984, in which a totalitarian regime, known only as “the Party,” controls virtually all aspects of its citizens’ lives. We are today a bit closer to that dystopia. Big Brother’s suspicious eye is on those lamp posts, watching Britons as they go to work, to school, to wherever they go through the lens of CCTV cameras. There are even Minority Report-style CCTV cameras that take a “proactive” approach to spying by alerting authorities if someone has loitered too long or if what it thinks are drug dealers meet up.

But London’s residents aren’t outraged by the cameras, which they have come to accept as perhaps the price of security. On balance, that’s not entirely surprising: after the 7/7 bombings and with the burgeoning threat of terrorism, it’s understandable that they’d tolerate unobtrusive cameras in exchange for some measure of security. The cameras do, however, leave you feeling like you’re in a police state–and with that feeling, you get the type of mutual suspicion and fear that exist in totalitarian societies. For instance, check out this notice outside the Central Criminal Court:

It reads, “Terrorists use surveillance to help plan attacks, taking photos and taking notes about security measures like the location of CCTV cameras. If you see someone doing that, we need to know.” Oops, I just did that. Arrest me?

The new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has vowed to curb some of the excesses that occurred under Labour, including “the abolition of ID cards and the children’s database…, the further regulation of CCTV and the restoration of right to protest.” But the CCTV cameras, though regulated, are here to stay. Outside the Foreign Office, I saw this:

CCTV at Foreign Office