Big Bother – Jamie Malanowski
Source: Big Bother – Jamie Malanowski
Islington is a fashionable neighborhood in North London, a gentrified residential area described, if only by real estate agents, as the new Notting Hill. In 1944, however, many of its characteristic four-story eighteenth-century townhouses had been broken into flats for working-class families, and it was into one of those, on the top floor of 27 Canonbury Square, overlooking a small preserve of green, that George Orwell moved with his wife and son after a V-2 rocket demolished their previous home. The space was drab, drafty, and leaky, but proved, in its way, inspiring. Descriptions in his next novel of an apartment, where “the plaster flaked constantly from ceilings and walls, the pipes burst in every hard frost, the roof leaked whenever there was snow,” and of its occupant’s wearying climb up the staircase, which he took “slowly, resting several times on the way,” show that 1984, the visionary novel about life in an all-seeing totalitarian state, began taking shape in those rooms. It is no small irony that today, across the square from Orwell’s home, two traffic cameras operate all day; and that the rear windows of his building are in the frame of security cameras set outside a conference center; and that there’s a camera at a car dealership by Orwell’s pub, and three more at the local grocery. All told, there are thirty-two closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV) running twenty-four hours a day within 200 yards of the place where the chilly thought of the perpetually watching Big Brother had its incubation.
Ironic to find so many, but not unexpected; you could have picked any Briton from Shakespeare to Sid Vicious, and odds would favor finding cameras near his stomping grounds. For the last quarter century, under Conservative and Labor governments alike, the United Kingdom has conducted a living experiment on the use of cameras to conduct domestic surveillance that would have made Stasi operatives green with envy. There are roughly 4.3 million cameras in the UK—a million of them in the city of London alone, according to the Metropolitan Police Service. They are operated by the Metropolitan Police and by the London Underground, by private security firms and local governments, by schools and hospitals and parking lots and chip shops. They survey busy intersections, Tube platforms, and significant buildings, but also the entrances to pubs, apartment buildings, and health clubs. In some parts of London, they are literally everywhere. Walk in any direction in Westminster, for example, where Parliament and the government buildings are collected, and you’ll see cameras prominently poking out from the sides of most buildings, large, gray, boxy sentinels forming part of the so-called Ring of Steel that monitors all traffic in and out of the most iconic, target-rich part of London….
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