CCTV and smart installation
Deputy Speaker, Chandima Weerakkody has announced that arrangements
are being made to broadcast Parliamentary proceedings live, first
through radio and eventually on television. Visibility is not exactly
transparency but it’s certainly better than having to depend on news
snippets in the media and the occasional lobby column. Representatives
can cover themselves in glory or shame, but they will have to keep in
mind that someone’s vote might be won or lost as they do their thing in
Reading about Weerakkody’s claim (we hope it will not be like another
election promise), got me thinking about closed circuit television. I
remembered being taken on a tour of Los Angeles by my friend Steven
Flusty about 15 years ago.
Home security systems
It was a thesis in motion about how insecure that city and indeed
that country is. The fascination with surveillance was mindboggling.
Steve had an eye for these things which, naturally, are not fixed in an
in-your-face kind of manner. There were cameras all over the place, i.e.
places missed even by the alert eye and places to which gaze does not
Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa entering the Parliament Chambers.
Today, 15 years later, when CCTV is recognized as being an acronym of
anything but an NGO, I found that the first CCTV system had been
installed by Siemens AG in a place called Peenamunde, Germany in 1942,
for observing the launch of V-2 rockets. A German engineer by the name
of Walter Bruch had designed and installed the system.
We have come far over the past 59 years. Surveillance has got a lot
more sophisticated. Today there is an incredible range of such devices
from home security systems to satellite aided surveillance of enemy
activity. Indeed it could be said that we are voyeur world. Recently, in
Sri Lanka, CCTV devices were installed in key points in Colombo for
purposes of combating all kinds of crime and wrongdoing, including
The first time such instruments were used for such purposes was in
September 1968 in Olean, New York, when video cameras were installed
along the main business street. It propelled Olean to the forefront of
crime-fighting technology, we are told. Today, many private
institutions, especially banks and stores use such mechanisms to
A friend of mine pointed out that intelligent installation can
contribute to combating criminality. He mentioned two examples. One was
the Peliyagoda Fish Market and the extortion racket. The mafia is not
necessarily ignorant about such devices and can be trusted to find ways
and means of countering such threats. Extortion doesn’t have to take
place in public places, for example. Still, smart surveillance would
take into account such realities, anticipate counter-measures and adjust
‘Shouldn’t there be CCTV in airports, especially where Custom
officials could encourage or be enticed by bribes?’ my friend asked. He
A lot of give-and-take happens at points of service. Foot dragging by
officials anticipating an oiling of palms can be monitored by CCTV and
appropriate action taken.
Track down criminals
I don’t know how much these devices cost. The Police and other
relevant authorities are aware I believe of the sexual harassment and
child molestation that regularly take place in trains and buses. When a
would-be offender is aware that someone is watching, there is a greater
possibility of the person desisting. The down side of placing cameras at
every corner is of course the inva sion of privacy and the possibility
that it can be used for other purposes, such as spying on and harassing
Like all things, such devices can be used for purposes that are
benign and beneficial to human kind and also for vile purposes of
monitoring dissent with a view to suppression. That which is used to
track down criminals can also be used in politically motivated and
selective ways to serve the personal interests of the ‘minders’ and not
the general public.
In the absence of adequate checks and balances on power and the
powerful and given a culture of general apathy except perhaps at points
of real and felt threat to self and sometimes nation, this is something
we will all have to live with. Even as we fight for an evening out of
obvious social anomalies, let me add.
On the other hand, since we have to live with CCTV, voyeurism and
arbitrary invasion of privacy, even we might as well demand that the
instruments be deployed in a more efficient and productive manner.