The Manufacture of “Surveillance by Consent”

05/03/2013 23:31

Source: Disinfo

the CCTV proposals in the Protection of Freedoms Bill are really about manufacturing consent”
No CCTV article ‘The Freedom Committee, CCTV / ANPR and the Manufacture of Consent’ (2nd May 2011) [1]

One nation under CCTV
Image by T.J.Blackwell

It’s not often that you get to witness the birth of a new philosophy but that is what we are told is at the heart of the new Surveillance Camera Code of Practice published by the UK’s Home Office this month [2]. Drum roll please, here it is, the new philosophy – “Surveillance by Consent”.

Now as new philosophies go it’s not the best and it’s not really new, nor is it a philosophy. In fact it’s more of a slogan, or more precisely a propaganda slogan. And what it contains a ready-made judgement to save you the trouble of thinking about the issue at hand, in this case surveillance. Surveillance you are told is by consent. You need not worry how consent is achieved or what that really means. You can rest easy knowing that the word “surveillance” which was sometimes considered controversial now has a positive sounding partner “consent” – which is a good thing. Hooray that’s that thorny issue sorted.

“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible [...] Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness”
‘Politics and the English Language’, George Orwell (1946) [3]

Not only has the Home Office created a “new philosophy” they’ve also launched a consultation process [4] into the new Surveillance Cameras Code of Practice. This is so that they can say the people were asked what they thought and their views were taken into account. Perhaps that’s what “surveillance by consent” is about. Except hardly anyone knows there is a consultation and even fewer will bother responding and if they do it’s unlikely they’ll be listened to unless they support the government/Home Office position. Perhaps that’s what “surveillance by consent” is about. We’re getting warmer.

To understand “surveillance by consent” we are told in the Code of Practice Consultation document [5] that it should be viewed as analogous to “Policing by Consent” – a slogan oft used to paint a rosy picture of the friendly British policeman. In fact it’s so often trotted out that it seems rude to deconstruct it here, but what the heck.

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