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Polite Fictions spacer Issue 1
Polite Fictions
by om lekha
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"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players Jacques,"
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(As You Like It Act 2, Scene 7)
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If Global Positioning Systems are the existential zenith of how the above quip is now made brutally literal, then cctv is the everyday manifestation. The NIO's Town Centre Challenge competition, under which many Ulster market towns saw the introduction of cctv in recent years, has an innocuous ring to it, suggestive of public floral arrangements and clean streets; you are filmed everywhere you go now, everything is normal, even homely.
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If the staging of the movie that we all now act as unwitting characters in was built on the premise that sex, violence and other deviant activities [those mainstays of dramatic tension] would be entirely absent from it, would this not be a sort of anti-spectacle for the masses? The ultimate in realism, a Warhol wallpaper-movie from which our overseers hope we will never awaken. If a perfect case scenario for advocates of cctv indeed came about, that "crime" vanished from public places, the possibility of this also being the effective end of spontanaity and agency in public space [excluding children and schizophrenics of course - proles of the imagination] is simply not part of the discussion. After all would you actually advocate crime as a trade off for some intangible? How about terror? Sex-murder of children?
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Outside of being active as consumers, in public spaces the players are to merely serve as decoration, according to the stage directions of the official script. Good for sales of clothing and accessories of course. If we are to judge each other less by our carriage, demeanour, integrity and humour and more by the sum total of our leisure choices, including political stance in the post-ideological age, then at least when my neighbour poison gasses/dirty bombs me and molests my children, I remain safe in the knowledge that we inhabit the same lifestyle spectrum, only residing at different ends. With respect to the six-county malaise, the above is based on the assured inexorability of 'normalisation', with northern folk slipping from one ersatz paradigm of marginal and regressive disempowerment to another mainstream one.
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What statutory basis does any public body have to install spy cameras then? This is spread over a number of UK acts of parliament, and gives a certain amount of operational discretion to the bodies responsible for cctv networks. cctv is dealt with through the law less as an individual source of social power, which would thus require its own legislation to deal with the potential ramifications for society, such as is the case with film and video, and more as just another weapon in the armory of the state [and private companies] to combat crime, along with pepper sprays and truncheons. On the UK home office website www.crimereduction.gov.uk/cctv Sharon Williams summarises the range of the relevant acts:
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CCTV operators must be fully aware and signed up to the system Codes of Practice and Procedures, including matters relating to Human Rights, Data Protection, PACE Act 1984, and Criminal Procedures and Investigations Act 1986. All actions must be supported by legislation or stated cases. (Until a 'test case' makes a judgement, consider using: Sec 17 Crime & Disorder Act 1998 for Police and Local Authority. Sec 6 Police Act 1967 for police use for the maintenance of an efficient and effective police area. Sec 163 Criminal Justice and Public order Act 1994 for Local Authority use as it permits CCTV use in its area. Sec 3 Criminal Law Act 1967 for small retailers to use CCTV as a reasonable means to prevent crime. For your legal basis to operate CCTV).
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The most notable recent legislation dealing with the overall social impact of cctv is the Human Rights Act 1998 (and the Data Protection Act 1984). This Act and indeed many of the prior statutes require what is effectively a risk assessment to justify the use of cctv; this is a touch disingenuous though, as ultimately this relies on the hypothetical committing of crime in the future - at the social level we are presumed guilty, backed up by projected statistics.
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State and police clearly would be the first and main administrators of these systems, but the Data Protection Act in particular provides a legal basis for its use by commercial bodies also (particularly in shopping centres currently) justification for this being based on prevention and detection of crime, apprehension and prosecuting of offenders or public/employee safety and also the more catch-all in the substantial public interest. These apply to areas where the public have largely free and unrestricted access which will frequently be spaces controlled by non-state commercial bodies.
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Use of cctv creates a portrait of the meeting points between those who manage and those who are managed. The range of these groups, from the hard edge of the state - police, immigration, state security, prisons, the judicial system - through to the cosied-up local government and commercial and retail business, reveals a portrait of the shared vision for how public space is used, the permissable and the forbidden. The packaging and the intent are well aligned.
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Overall, article 8 of the Human Rights Act indicates the extent to which the right to respect for private and family life, which itself seems an over-modest range of human scenarios, can be superceded by the supposed common good; while everyone has the right to respect for private and family life, his home and his correspondence, this is then qualified, that there shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights or freedoms of others.
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A little extensive?
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