Welcome to the ‘We’ QR code portal! You might have arrived through the QR code on a poster situated on South Castle Street, Dundee. Or, you may have stumbled across the portal on the Twitter hashtag page #TheParadoxAndTheCreep. If you are not currently standing on the street in Dundee, you can find out more about this project on my website home page.
If you want to view, or contribute to, the expanded thoughts and discussion on Twitter, go to #TheParadoxAndTheCreep and click ‘latest’ in the menu to see the full tweet thread. All interactions on this hashtag will become part of the artwork. You do not need a Twitter account to view the hashtag page.
Surveillance: The Paradox And The Creep is a process-led artwork. The content will be released into the QR Code portals in stages.
This is partly to show the work in progress, but also to give viewers an opportunity to absorb the material and comment in #TheParadoxAndTheCreep Twitter hashtag.
This exhibition has ended in Dundee, but it will remain online.
Some will say we didn’t have a choice anyway
In some form or another, surveillance has likely been around as long as humans have existed. The origin of the word surveillance is from a combination of Latin (vigilare ‘keep watch’) and French to watch (veiller) over (sur). In the last 200 years there has been a slow creep of all sorts of analogue and digital surveillance technologies into our daily lives.
In terms of the prevalence of surveillance cameras, CCTV cameras in semi-private spaces (such as banks and shops) first became common in the late 1960s. However, it wasn’t “until 1985 that the first large-scale public space surveillance system” was installed in the UK, in the town of Bournemouth. This “open street” CCTV system was installed so that the police and the ‘security services’ could use the cameras to monitor the streets for threats during the annual Conservative Party Conference. The previous year’s conference had been bombed. During the 1990s, the roll out of CCTV was the central focus of the “[Conservative] Government’s crime prevention programme, accounting for over three-quarters of its budget.” When the Labour Government was elected in 1997, they continued the trend. Between 1994 and 2004 it is estimated that “around £4-5 Billon [was] spent on the installation and maintenance of CCTV systems in the UK, and this excludesthe monitoring costs associated with these systems.” As of 2004, there were more than “40,000 open street CCTV cameras monitoring public space” in the UK.
*A note to readers/viewers: My approach to examining the subject matter of ‘Surveillance’ is not simply detached and theoretical. Surveillance affects people on a deeply emotional and sometimes subconscious level. But, to those people who have experienced violent crime, either as a witness or victim, feelings are often immensely charged. It can be a confusing issue to address. In these portals, I will occasionally include personal anecdotes, about experiences that I have had, to illustrate my understanding of what is at stake. My anecdotes are also intended as entry-points to consider the real-world practical problems and mechanics of ‘Surveillance Society’ that often get overlooked.
Content warning, depictions of violence.
In the year 1990, Glasgow held the title of European Capital of Culture. I was a student, in my late teens, and like most young people living in Glasgow I revelled in the extended opening ours for pubs and clubs. It was a wild year. However, in the 1980s and 90s (in fact, as far back as the 1930s) Glasgow also had a sinister reputation.
In the first few years of the 90s, old fashioned ‘on the beat’ policing was still the norm because the open street police surveillance cameras had not yet been installed. Those of us who are old enough will remember that Glasgow (and some other parts of Scotland) had a serious problem with knife crime during that period of our history. I witnessed this casual knife crime culture first hand, on more than one occasion.
There is one particularly terrifying incident that has been seared into my memory. It took place in the spring of 1991. I was on my way to my friend’s 18th birthday party, travelling up to the city centre from the South Side. Just when I was about to get off the bus, seconds before the door opened onto Hope Street, I came face to face with the victim of a vicious machete attack. The victim, unarmed, was cowering under the blows, protecting his head as best he could with his hands as he stumbled and bumped up against the stationary bus. Only the glass of the door separated me from the bloody brutal attack. The bus driver, having realised the danger, pulled away from the bus stop and sped up the hill. With my brain high on “fight or flight” hormones, I demanded to get off at the next stop. I jumped off the bus, darted across the street and sprinted down to Central Station. The man was still being attacked while about 30 onlookers stood frozen in shock. In the train station, I immediately found two police officers who were attempting to move a comatose old man (who may or may not have been drunk). The two ‘beat cops’ were unreasonably angry at me for interrupting them from their duties. Initially they dismissed my repeated frantic plea for them to “call for police back up and an ambulance” to stop the potential murder taking place only 200 meters away! Then I saw that their eyes had joined the panic, when a flood of screams swept through the cavernous station, shrill terror echos mingling with monotonous departure announcements.
The emergency services eventually arrived on the scene (outside of what was then known as Bonkers Bar) on Hope Street. The young man survived the attack. However, he suffered the most appalling injuries to his head and hands. Many people watched the assault take place, but I was the only witness who contacted the police. It’s unclear to me why nobody else came forward, perhaps it was fear of retribution.
If one hears of a machete attack in Glasgow, there are often stereotypes that come to mind. The media fills our heads with preconceptions. However, none of the readymade character types fitted this particular assault. The assailant looked like a random “indie kid”, his fashion sense influenced by the Manchester music scene. That long floppy bowl cut, long sleeved t-shirt and those baggy flared jeans, that presumably had held the sheath of the blade. When I recounted these observations, the police were in disbelief and they had clearly been following the wrong leads. As far as I know, they never caught him. Perhaps if his image had been captured on surveillance cameras, he might have been tracked. At the time, there were no open street CCTV cameras in Glasgow, the only cameras were in shops and banks.
Facing up to the “surveillance paradox”
In 1994, the City of Glasgow installed their first network of police (high performance) CCTV cameras. During the period of installation, before they were ‘switched on’, there were a series of UK-wide huge street protests against the reforms to the Criminal Justice Act. These reforms were to give the police increased powers to surveil and disperse gatherings using greater force and weaponry than they had previously been granted. It was a strategy by the Conservative government to increase the militarisation of the UK domestic police force. There was a rather unexpected alliance that came together in protest to oppose the Criminal Justice Bill. Evangelical Christians were worried that, if enacted, a future socialist government might ban the “March for Jesus”, and the LGBT community was concerned that the Pride marches might be prevented from progressing. But the bill was clearly aimed at stopping the rave scene, and organised protests such as the treetop camp protecting the trees in Pollok Park from certain death in the motorway expansion. I joined ravers, environmentalists, LGBT folks and Christians, we turned up en mass in down town Glasgow to demonstrate our disgust at the proposed bill.
During the march that day, just a short distance from where I witnessed the machete attack, a man stood on the pavement behaving like a cross between an evangelical preacher and an exuberant Vatican tour guide. While he gesticulated at one of the newly installed Glasgow police cameras with a cardboard mock up of a CCTV camera (taped onto a broom handle), he preached about the looming totalitarian surveillance state of the Big Brother.
It was a confusing situation. While I was standing under that camera, I now know that I was encountering what Hille Koskela refers to as a “paradoxical” “emotional space”. In the “emotional space” of “surveilled space” I was experiencing a kind of “surveillance paradox”; coexisting but seemingly opposing emotions of fear and comfort. In my case, fear of the looming totalitarian state Big Brother, and comfort from the idea of the protection of a big brother keeping watch to identify the ‘bad guys’ wielding the blades.
Hille Koskela gives insights into “surveillance paradox”
We were led to believe that the installation of high powered police surveillance cameras across Glasgow was going to reduce the rate of violent crime in the city. This intervention was sold to the public as a “crime prevention” measure, and the entire political spectrum swallowed the lie.
In my memory, the first demonstration of the failure of the Glasgow CCTV cameras, as a crime prevention measure, was the heinously brutal beating of William McGeoch as he was leaving Bennets Gay club in 1995. The whole vicious scene was captured on CCTV camera footage, which enabled the police to catch the two attackers – Hugh Friel and Jason O’Donnell. This footage was broadcast on the evening news. The cameras clearly did not stop this violent crime, they could only assist the capture of the criminals after the crime had been committed.
A second betrayal in the William McGeoch case was the lens through which the video footage was interpreted. When McGeoch applied for victim compensation funds, he was denied. The “[p]olice told the [Criminal Compensation] Board that McGeoch had started the aggro.”
This was an openly bigoted period of recent UK history. It is likely that Section 28 (a deeply damaging piece of homophobic surveillance/censorship legislation) will have had a huge influence on how the police, the courts and the media interpreted hate crimes against members of the LGBTQ community during that time.
Even though the Section 28 (a.k.a Clause 28) legislation was supposed to be limited to preventing the promotion & support for LGBTQ issues in local authority jurisdiction (schools, libraries etc.), it had a much broader influence on decision making by those in positions of power. It gave people across UK society the government sanctioned permission to be homophobic & transphobic. Thanks to Garry Otton for documenting the William McGeoch case in his book Sexual Fascism (page 151). Garry Otton also wrote a meticulous chronicle of the events that led to the end of Section 28 in his book Religious Fascism: The Repeal of Section 28.
In 1997, there was a massive positive shift in many (not all) areas of the new Labour government policy approach, in comparison with the previous Conservative government. However, they sadly stayed in lockstep with Conservative policies in regards to the police budget spending on the surveillance camera networks (see Norris, McCahill and Wood). It was perhaps seen as a cheaper and expedient way of policing, in comparison to ‘on the beat’ policing. Glasgow City Council continued on the same flawed track, after all the cameras did aid in catching the criminals. Unfortunately, even after devolution, the jails filled up and the culture of knife crime became even more entrenched in certain parts of Scotland.
Note*It is likely that in particular locations, where a person who has committed a crime has been caught by CCTV cameras, that there will be a period of time when that area is free from crime (within view of the cameras). But, it is possibly the living localised memory of events that act as a warning rather than the cameras being present.
In 2002, Scotland was shocked into changing the direction of policing policy in regards to knife crime. A World Health Organisation report described a stark picture, and the rest of the world viewed the normalisation of Glasgow’s stabbing culture as abhorrent. In 2005, with headlines in The Herald such as “Murder rates at 10 year high”, it is unsurprising that Scots were ashamed.
A turning point, and the radical new vision of a forensic psychologist
It’s not clear whether it was a combination of the ‘sunk cost trap’ and the ‘status quo trap’ that kept Scotland stuck in a cycle of violence for so long. But, it often takes a crisis to move past the sunk cost mindset, and it sometimes takes a public global slap-down to recognise that home-grown crisis.
In response to the 2002 World Health Organisation assessment that “Glasgow [was] the murder capital of Europe” Karyn McCluskey, forensic psychologist, wrote a report to the Chief Constable of Glasgow Police department. In the report, McCluskey stated what might now seem obvious:
– “Prevention is absolutely key […] we need to start looking at [violence] like a disease, and looking at prevention – What are the risk and protective factors? What works in preventing it? And then, how do we scale it up to a country wide level?” –
In Scotland, “in 2002, violence was just seen as a police problem.” However when Karyn McCluskey looked at the problem of violence, she saw it as a broader public health issue in terms of the wellbeing of everyone. McCluskey went on to lead the Violence Reduction Unit of Glasgow. Listen to her 2015 interview on CBC Radio (Canada) at this link.
Watch this 2019 WIRED talk, “Fighting gang violence using epidemiology” by Karyn McCluskey, Chief executive, Community Justice Scotland.
(content warning: depictions of violence and injuries)
In Scotland, when the mindset towards violence shifted towards treating it as a disease, some of the mechanisms of police surveillance started to shift too. There became less of a need to depend entirely on the ‘catch-on-camera and punish model’, and there was a move towards a ‘violence prevention and compassionate community healthcare model’.