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Sunday, January 13, 2008

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Say one thing but do the opposite...

Tai Kor Is Watching You Lah Wah Liau

It took 24 years longer than expected, but the future has finally arrived.

And I don't like it. Not one bit.

We are fighting a war with no end to create a peace with no defined victory.

Our civil liberties are in danger of being discounted.

We are told that it's better not to know what our government is doing in our name, for security purposes. Meanwhile, our government is becoming omnipresent, spying on us whenever it deems it necessary.

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

George Orwell was right after all.

In 1949, Orwell penned "1984," a dark, futuristic satire in which the totalitarian government used indoctrination, propaganda and fear to enforce order and conformity. His "Big Brother" — the face of this all-knowing regime — was never wrong, and to make sure of it, history was constantly being rewritten.

Orwell wrote his book as a cautionary tale to underscore the insidious danger of slowly eroded individual liberties. His Thought Police may not yet be on the march, but it's not hyperbole to point out the eerie parallels with today's Malaysia.

In Malaysia today, Big Brother is watching.

Orwell must be turning in his grave. He would have been aghast at how real such monitoring of ordinary people has become in this country.

There are 4.2 million CCTVs planted nationwide in Britain – one camera for every 14 people who are caught on camera an average of 300 times a day.

Are Malaysians heading the same way with the recent announcement to install CCTVs in buildings and crime-prone areas? Certainly, there are issues to consider.

British paper, The Evening Standard reported in March 2007 that the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) had issued a warning that any security system was “vulnerable to abuse, including bribery of staff and computer hackers gaining access to it”.

A nationwide standard for CCTVs would make it possible for all information gathered by individual cameras to be shared – and accessed by anyone with the means to do so.

As more CCTVs are installed, Malaysians will have to get used to being constantly monitored.

The RAE report follows a warning by the British Government’s Information Commissioner Richard Thomas that excessive use of CCTV and other information gathering was “creating a climate of suspicion”.

The Home Office stated that “CCTV works best as part of a package of measures.” The cameras, which are placed at the heart of the country’s crime prevention policy, may be more effective as a detection tool than as a deterrent, researchers found.

Also, Britain’s National Association for the Criminal Rehabilitation of Offenders (Nacro) points out that while CCTVs reduced crime by 5%, better street lighting lessened crime rates by 20%.

“It would be foolish to claim that well-planned CCTVs can never have an impact, but their effectiveness is often overstated. This places a big responsibility on councils and others to think through the implementation of CCTV and ensure that is not favoured in place of cheaper and more effective measures such as adequate street lighting,” Nacro’s Crime and Social Policy Unit spokesperson Rachel Armitage said in a press statement in June 2002 after Manchester installed Britain’s most advanced digital CCTV system with 400 cameras covering the city centre.

Criminologist Dr P. Sundramoorthy from USM's School of Social Sciences concurs. “I live in Batu Feringghi, Penang. The street lights are not functioning most of the time. What’s the point of installing CCTVs when it is too dark for them to capture any footage?” he says.

A preliminary assessment of CCTVs used by local councils thus far also shows mixed results.

In Subang Jaya, Selangor, for example, there was a drop of 31% of snatch thefts after 100 CCTVs were installed. But in Johor Utara, where 18 units were fixed, there was a 194% increase in snatch thefts. Petaling Jaya, with 22 units, recorded a 10% increase, and Klang, with six units, had a 17% increase.

Experts believe criminals simply switch their operations to less high-density areas such as housing suburbs.

Kamalruddin Shamsudin, deputy director- general I of the Federal Town and Country Planning Department under the Housing and Local Government Ministry, explains that many CCTVs installed are not operated by the police, resulting in poor, or no, response. The cameras also result in poor quality images due to low resolutions of less than 25 frames per second.

In the Nurin Jazlin Jazimin case, a CCTV placed outside a building managed to capture a man dumping her body inside a black garbage bag. But the picture quality was heartbreakingly too bad for police to identify the man, even after technical assistance was sought from the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Dr Sundramoorthy believes that Malaysians still do not have a clear understanding of crime prevention.

“We have the mindset that crime prevention is a role for the police. But the police functions are reactive more than proactive.

“Effective crime prevention requires the role of everyone in society. There can never be zero crime, we can only minimise it. This requires the participation and efforts of the police, private security, architects, community, treatment programmes, schools, and courts.

Installing CCTVs is not the cure. Its a stop gap measure, like applying a band aid on someone who's bleeding from the loss of a leg. Education is the answer, the long-term solution.

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