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CCTV’s now in our nature, says Roger Ratcliffe

It’s hard to evade the beady eyes of CCTV cameras these days, even while out in the countryside enjoying a walk on a glorious summer’s day.

Which is what happened last week. There I was, happily striding down from Ilkley Moor after lingering to admire breathtaking views over a large swathe of Yorkshire from a 3,000-year-old stone circle known as the Twelve Apostles. But as I pushed open a wooden gate to join a medieval dirt track I moved slap bang into the harsh reality of the 21st century.

In front of me on this public right of way was a sign declaring that CCTV cameras were in operation. I had no intention of unhooking the other gate that was opposite me and entering a farmyard, where presumably a goose was busy laying the golden eggs that necessitated such high-tech security, yet behind these cameras and their warning sign was a presumption that I might do so.

What worries me is that I’ve seen this before in the countryside. Last year I found myself under the gaze of cameras as I walked past an isolated farm in the Yorkshire Dales. Sure, I’d become used to seeing them in towns and cities, and long ago began to forget they were there, but now it seems to me that CCTV cameras are creeping into remote rural areas too. The surveillance society’s reach is extending ever further and intruding into our lives even miles from anywhere. Surely one day every inch of the UK will be monitored by wide-angled lenses, recording every moment of our lives whenever we step outside our homes.

In the late 1940s, the author George Orwell would have known nothing about microchips and wouldn’t have heard the word “digital”, yet he accurately predicted the technology that has made possible his vision of a totalitarian state in his novel Nineteen Eighty Four. According to the security industry, there is now one surveillance camera for every 10 people in UK streets. We are told this is for our own safety, but these cameras create a huge intrusion into our lives and the spread of them away from military or other sensitive installations was never subjected to proper democratic scrutiny.

And the idea that we all feel safer is rubbish. A study in Scotland a couple of years ago found that on a new estate equipped with CCTV cameras they had the reverse effect. Residents complained the cameras’ presence actually increased their level of anxiety.

Yet many people are installing cameras around their homes. CCTV gear not much bigger than a cigarette packet can be bought at your DIY superstores and linked by wifi to your computer. A friend tells me his older brother has got them covering the front and back gardens. “We call it the Big Brother house,” he says. Someone else has an app on his phone that allows him to look at live pictures from a CCTV camera at his home even while on holiday. Another acquaintance says he’s heard of a drug dealer in Bradford who uses it to keep an eye on the lock-up garage used to stash his goods.

Who knows – one day CCTV inside rooms will be come standard for domestic security. Get ready for your close-up.

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