Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of living in a highly surveillanced society in relation to crime and criminalization. By Suzanne Foster.
The use of surveillance has dramatically increased in the United Kingdom since 1994. Since this time surveillance has become an integral part of the government's crime prevention strategy. For example, the U.K uses more CCTV cameras per head of population than anywhere else in the world. It is estimated that five hundred thousand CCTV cameras operate within London; this means there is one camera for every fourteen people (McCahill and Norris, 2006). This paper will mainly focus on surveillance in the form of CCTV cameras. It will begin with a discussion of the advantages of living in a surveillance society, focusing on its impact on the detection and reduction of crime. This essay will go on to argue that although surveillance reduces crime in areas where it is present, it can displace crime to areas which are unprotected. This paper will then discuss the disadvantages of surveillance, focusing on privacy and individual liberty. It will then move on to discuss surveillance in relation to criminalization. The main argument will be that surveillance is being used as a type of informal social control which affects everyone in society including those perceived to be deviant. This paper will conclude that the state uses surveillance to enforce conformity at the expense of democratic rights; therefore the justifications for its continued use are questionable.
The use of surveillance is often justified on the basis that it reduces and controls crime (Armstrong and Norris 1998).Surveillance reduces crime through its ability to record crimes being committed. The recording of criminal activity prevents crimes from occurring, due to a fear of being caught (Armstrong and Norris, 1998).The use of surveillance can also lead to an increase in crime detection rates. Ditton and Short (1998a) conducted a study in Airdrie in Scotland which compared crime detection data, from two years before and after the installation of CCTV. The study concluded that crime detection rates improved to 116 % of previously recorded levels after CCTV was implemented (Ditton and Short, 1998a). The study also concluded that the number of crimes being solved increased from 50% to 58%, in the two years after CCTV was installed. (Ditton and Short, 1998a). The results of this study indicate that CCTV increases crime detection rates and leads to an increase in the arrest and prosecution of criminals. However, a report produced by the select committee on science and technology highlighted problems associated with the use of surveillance images as evidence.
Digital images produced by surveillance can be altered and are open to manipulation. The potential for manipulation means that digital images can only be used as evidence if it is proven that strict procedures, such as audit trails have been followed (Select Committee on Science and Technology, 1997). This report illustrates that the use of surveillance with regard to the arrest and prosecution of criminals is not straight forward. Although, these problems exist surveillance images have been used successfully in the past (Graham, 1998). For example, Jamie Bulger's killers and the Oklahoma bomber were caught through the use of CCTV (Graham, 1998).
The Ditton and Short study also concluded that crime fell by 21 per cent in the two years after CCTV was installed (Ditton and Short, 1998a). The results of this study support the argument that surveillance reduces crime. This argument is also supported by a study conducted by Skinns (1998) which showed that levels of crime decreased by 16 per cent; a year after CCTV was installed in Redton town centre. The study also showed a 12 per cent reduction in the amount of crime witnessed by members of the public (Skinns 1998). The increase in crime...
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