November 19, 2009

“I always feel like – somebody’s watching me,” confessed Michael Jackson on the ploddingly paranoid tune of that name by long-forgotten Berry Gordy progeny Rockwell, “and I have no privacy, oh-oh, oh-oh!”

Had Messers Jackson and Rockwell lived in late-noughties Bolton, they might well have had a point. Unwitting drivers and pedestrians in Reebokton, as it will officially be known from next year, will now have their daily comings and goings – or at least some of the more incriminating fragments thereof – preserved as digital motion images.

In a move that smacks of Orwell’s or perhaps of Channel 4’s Big Brother – take your pick – Bolton council has decided to bolt video cameras on to the headgear of its meter people. Parking wardens throughout the Borough are to be the UK’s first fully video-enabled TEO squad.

In a masochistic reversal of the disturbing modern phenomenon of happy slapping, whereby delinquent teens record themselves assaulting others, Bolton’s traffic officers will be able to rewind and freeze-frame themselves as they are verbally and physically assaulted by irate Boltonians aggrieved at getting ticketed.

A lucrative TV deal could yet result, as the past three years’ crop of incidents has included 53 ‘code reds’ in which members of the public have physically assaulted, spat at, or driven their cars at wardens.

Councillor Ismail Ibrahim, Bolton Council’s “Executive Member” for Environmental Services, said: ‘The fact that they are being filmed on camera should hopefully make people think twice.” Surely a laudable aim by any means.

The cameras, he said, “will also be crucial in gathering evidence. Often it can boil down to one person’s word against another. We will now have the video evidence to help clear up any doubts.”

The argument, as with all forms of video surveillance, no doubt goes something like this: if you are not doing anything wrong, how could you possibly object?


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