Wednesday, 17 August 2011 INDEX

Riot uniform
The police say they are sorting through CCTV images locating the perpetrators of looting and rioting on our streets last week. So CCTV saves the day? Well, perhaps not.

In reality the authorities are anxious to get past these incidents. There will be a few show trials (such as the two people who got four years a piece for trying to arrange looting on Facebook), but the prisons are too full to accommodate the vast numbers of people who were involved in the rioting.

It may be that any time there is unemployment of more than two million in the UK (it went up to 2.49 million in June) there is a high risk of summer riots. And it may be that Blackberry looting where people pre-arrange attacks on target businesses, is a 21st century phenomenon we just have to live with.

Of course the police should be attacking Blackberry not Facebook but in yet another demonstration of the weakness of the British state (and perhaps the state in general) Blackberry (based in Canada) is above the law and its traffic can not be viewed by the forces of law and order. Or at least, that's what they tell us.

And it may be that CCTV is a big part of the problem rather than the solution. Hoodies wear their hoods in order to avoid detection by CCTV. If it were not for CCTV the fashion would have died out years ago.

By defining themselves as hoodies the young join an under class that is not exactly criminal but not exactly part of mainstream society either. ASBOs (anti social behaviour orders) so often worn as badges of pride, and exclusion zones that attempt to control perfectly legal activities people find to be a nuisance, complete the ostracism.

It is a small step from being harried by CCTV, exclusion zones and ASBOs, to crossing the legal line and looting when you get a message about an event on your Blackberry. Since there were thousands involved there is little chance that a large proportion of them will be thrown into jail, there simply isn't the room in the prisons.

There is a great deal to be said for the law. Blurring the borders between what is allowed and what is punished, never does any good in the long term as any parent will tell you. CCTV, or the monitoring and cataloging of perfectly innocent people, may seem inoffensive or perhaps benign. But if it causes much of a generation to adopt a uniform of disguise and disapproval it may be a much more powerful tool than we realise. And a tool that is not being deployed for our benefit.

Of course the rioting and looting might not have happened if there had been full employment and a widespread expectation that things were getting better. People who feel they have a stake in society are less likely to rock the boat, even when that boat is captained by an eccentric who issues strange rules.

Posted by Jonathan Brind at 04:01
Wednesday, 17 August 2011 INDEX