When Big Brother begins to watch

sri-lanka-buddhist-leader-warned-of-end-to-all-muslimsAs reported in Tuesday’s issue of this newspaper, the Department of Police is to shortly begin the second phase of the programme to install Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras within the precincts of inner-Colombo. A peep into what is happening in Colombo on a 24/7 cycle would certainly represent a peep into a futuristic, modern-day Sri Lanka, the moves of the criminals, ordinary people and law enforcement officials, every transgression human and vehicular, and sundry other incidents, both good and bad that are often overlooked or go unnoticed, will be captured on camera.
This means the eyes of the CCTV would reach where the arm of the law cannot or refuse to reach. In an exhausting exercise of planning out the second phase of the new CCTV expansion, the Police Department is reported to be in the process of identifying the precise locations for placement of the cameras.

The Police Spokesperson who has been under the scrutiny of both the Opposition and the cynical segment of society and criticized time and again for many gaffes and deliberate falsehoods, has finally come out with some positive and proactive proposal of the ’21st Century-kind’ that will indeed be perceived as a silver lining in a dark cloud that is hanging in the Sri Lankan skies. He is also quoted in the article as saying that the third phase of the programme would include some ‘sophisticated’ cities outside of Colombo such as Kandy and Galle.

There is no gainsaying that given the current unravelling of the law and order situation in the country, the CCTV cameras will go a long way to bolster confidence in the city’s security apparatus. However, in the current context of looming riots based on racial and religious divisions, an obvious question that needs to be asked is: Why not install CCTV cameras in the most volatile areas of our land, such as Aluthgama, Dharga Town, Beruwala and other sensitive regions where the fires of racial hatred are burning fiercely?

Would the Police have the prudence or even the capacity to think so boldly and suggest it to those who make the final decisions on matters such as these? The objective of twenty four hour closed circuit surveillance should not be limited just to catch the traffic offenders and those who commit minor misdemeanours. There are plenty of examples in modern Hollywood cinema about how ‘Big Brother’ is looking at the private lifestyles of the ‘rich and famous’ using technological innovations such as closed circuit cameras.

With the government’s credibility on sincerity and genuineness of purpose badly dented and in question, it is beyond anyone’s doubt the matter that is recorded in the television cameras would be a lethal weapon in the hands of a diabolical sycophant whose perverse desires might just outweigh the genuine needs of a State-run CCTV programme. If the present inventory of 105 cameras fixed in 27 locations is not sufficient, then an increase in cameras and other technological wherewithal would certainly increase the chances of the culprits of many crimes, misdemeanours and pranks getting caught in the act but keeping the would-be blackmailers of the cameras should be a significant goal of the scheme as well.

A well-balanced execution of the scheme is as crucial to the success of the programme as the very installation of a modern-day monitoring mechanism. It is almost beyond any doubt that culprits of many minor offences will be caught on camera and brought to justice, but as we have already mentioned, if the real drug-trafficking sharks, rapists, paedophiles and racist bigots who ravage the country as was depicted in the Aluthgama riots, get away for whatever reason, then the whole programme would be another white elephant, consuming tremendous funds that government can ill afford, but producing zilch in terms of positive socio-cultural change.

Let not the CCTV become a knife in the hands of an uneducated vagrant-bureaucrat whose private desires and indulgences overtake the needs of a society that is struggling to raise its head above water.

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