In a recent video, Wikileaks’ Julian Assange and various hangers-on whinge that the government has been spying on them with CCTV cameras outside the home in East Anglia where Assange is living while out on bail. Vaughan Smith, owner of the home, says of the cameras, “I think the country is full of them but I don’t know why I need quite so many of them around my house.”
Of course he does. There’s the small matter of Assange being wanted in connection with sex crimes in Sweden. Whatever conspiracy theories surround the charges, fighting an extradition order does make courts suspect that you are a flight risk. Assange and company assert that monitoring the man unjustly violates his right to privacy. The ankle monitor he wears, at least, is a condition of his bail. Assange has, after all, solicited asylum offers from the Swiss and Ecuadorian governments. The cameras are more controversial.
Dan Hamilton, director of Big Brother Watch, alleges that all those who have any contact with Assange are being filmed and, presumably, monitored. Hamilton says, “For his movements – and those of his visitors – to be monitored in this way constitutes an outrageous invasion of personal privacy.”
Britain is notorious for its use of CCTV cameras; figures from 2009 suggest that the UK has 65% more cameras than China in absolute terms, with one per 14 people compared to one per 472,000. One might understand placing movement restrictions and ankle bracelets on those out on bail. Filming everyone around that person, from Wikileaks fellow travellers to passersby, seems incredibly—and perhaps unnecessarily—invasive. The average Brit perhaps tolerates the pervasive use of CCTV because it doesn’t obviously affect his or her life. However, being filmed 300 times a day smacks of Big Brother and 1984.