Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Attitudes to Surveillance in Public Places

Followers of Road Rage News will not be unfamiliar with this classic which has gone viral in the last few days, having first been picked up by the magnificent Bristol Traffic blog, then mainstream media outlets the Guardian and Telegraph. A business motorist was caught on camera verbally abusing a man who filmed her car blocking a busy road. She threatens to tell the police that he assaulted her.

The YouTube user, intrigued by a truly frightful example of arrogant motoring started filming on his vidphone. The motorist jumps out of her car, and starts pursuing the pedestrian down the street.
"You've been filming me. Gimme that phone - now! You've been filming me - it's illegal! It's illegal! Who the fuck do you think you are, filming me? I'm trying to get to my place of work - how dare you fat little lump?  
I want to know who you are, I want to know where you live or where you work."
She also threatens him with a fraudulent vexatious allegation (of assault) and a man (thought to be the motorist's husband) harangues and intimidatingly menaces the YouTube user.

Leaving to one side the appallingly ignorant and arrogant driving style of the business motorist who is the subject of the video and also leaving aside the harassment and intimidation she and her husband visited upon the pedestrian, what intrigues all the more is the attitude to surveillance in public places.

If Bath is anything like Aberdeen, everyone is almost always and everywhere in the town centre subject to video (and, increasingly, audio - oh, and tracking) surveillance. This surveillance is operated by civil authorities and, again - increasingly, by private security firms. As the driver of a high-ish end Audi, the business motorist who is the subject of the viral movie will doubtless be fully loaded with sat-nav and an anti-theft tracking device. All the information streams from these surveillance data gathering systems are transmitted to people (or AI expert-system statistical analysis and pattern recognition algorithms) in remote locations with unknowable proclivities and uncertain future outcomes. All of this our society has become accustomed to; if it bothers us at all, it does so only marginally. Yet, when the business motorist in the video spots that she is being filmed by a member of the public who is in plain view, who's face she can see and whom she can engage in conversation - she goes APESHIT. Why is that?


Anonymous said...

I recently took my one year old neice to a cafe and she wandered up to a table of people. They thought she was adorable and one woman took her up onto her knee. All this was fine with me until one person said "take a photo!" and I suddenly felt really awkward and didn't know whether to stop them or not. I didn't suspect anything sinister, but it just didn't seem right.

OtherAberdeen said...

So what did you do? Did you allow the photo to be taken or not?

Predatory Bird said...

I have some serious OtherAberdeen catching up to do. Love the blog. Bizarre I just wrote a piece about a skater from Bath this morning.
"I think this'll be great on YouTube, It'll be awesome." Amazing! Ballard would have loved it.
Halfway through watching I wondered if it was a clever, scripted, Blair Witch style piece made by film and tv or communications-in-culture students or something. What does that say about 'reality' and the ubiquity of video recording equipment? I can't watch a single thing without questioning it's authenticity.
With regards the question posed my instinct is that she went apeshit because she could, because the camera was not some robotic thing high on a lamp post it was right there, being wielded by a flesh and blood 'assailant'. I also think that lady was reacting to more than just being filmed, whether she was aware of it or not.