Forget Big Brother, CCTV is a tool

The only people who need to be worried about being watched are those who are breaking the law.

Thanks to a feat of technological sophistication worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, the world has watched as the Dubai Police piece together the murder of the Hamas leader Mahmoud al Mabhouh these past few weeks. Were it not for closed-circuit television (CCTV), the timeline that was so meticulously constructed would not have ever been pieced together. From their entry into Dubai International Airport to the hallway surveillance of their intended target, the killers of al Mabhouh are forever captured in digital images for the scrutiny of police and public alike.
The case demonstrates the use of such technology as a national security tool. No one can deny that the world is changing. A policeman walking his neighbourhood beat is no longer the guarantee of public safety that he once was, even if convoluted international assassination plots are taken out of the equation. Cameras aid criminal investigations, establish the facts of a case and deter crime by their mere presence.
Despite the relative safety on the streets, the UAE with its cosmopolitan society has a complex task to ensure the public's personal security. And in a region where global politics are often knocking at the door, there is an imperative to safeguard against terrorism and other threats to national security. The Critical National Infrastructure Authority has already announced expanding CCTV coverage to key installations. As most motorists know, there is an extensive network watching for driving violations. Now, as The National reports today, security firms have outlined plans in the capital to expand CCTV coverage in public areas.
There are sound reasons for the plan, but CCTV can also be abused. In 2008, a video of a Dubai policeman being hit and killed by a car in the Dubai Airport Tunnel was leaked on YouTube to his family and department's distress. The leak was quickly addressed, but it emphasises the need for the system to be used responsibly. Public surveillance inevitably provokes the analogy of Big Brother in George Orwell's 1984, a comparison that is as hackneyed as it is overblown. The only people who really need to be worried about being watched are those who are breaking the law.