Britain’s Surveillance Society: Is Big Brother watching you?

Having watched Channel 4’s Hunted I suddenly find myself wondering how often I’m being watched going about my everyday life. For those of you who didn’t see Hunted (why not?!) it was a reality show where 14 members of the public turned fugitive and went on the run for 28 days. Sounds relatively simple, right? Well unfortunately  for them they were being hunted down by a team of ex-intelligence officers, counter-terrorism experts, data analysts and character profilers headed by the former Head of Covert Operations at Scotland Yard.

It was great reality TV, much better than the ‘scripted reality’ we normally see. But it really got me thinking about when and how I’m being watched. Simply walking to university, how many CCTV cameras do I appear on? Is there a camera filming me when I get cash out? I didn’t even know it was normal to have cameras on cash machines until I watched Hunted and now I’m thinking about it every time I go to an ATM. Even using my phone I’m pinpointing my location to anyone who might be looking; send a tweet and if someone is looking for you they can get your location in seconds, isn’t that scary?

We never really consider what a big technological  footprint we have – in Hunted the team of experts hacked and used the ‘fugitives’ Facebook profiles to gain information for building character profiles. I’ve had Facebook since I was 15, I can’t imagine what sort of character profile they could build for me with a constant timeline of my life for 6 years – and that doesn’t even include my Twitter and Instagram! Twenty years ago it would have been a lot easier to turn fugitive for 28 days, now most of the population probably have some kind of internet presence which could be hacked and used against them.

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was simply a novel about a dystopian future when it was published in 1949 – now it’s not far from the truth. How long will it be before the Thought Police become a reality? Is Big Brother watching you? Would you even know if he was? And if you wanted to go off the radar, do you even think you could? The fact that only 4 out of 14 fugitives made it the full 28 days on Hunted proves that it’s very difficult to do.

Now I’m not saying I’ve become this hugely paranoid person – I swear – but before I watched Hunted I’d just never thought about how often we’re under surveillance, or whether that surveillance is for our own safety; according to the British Security Industry Authority (BSIA) there is one CCTV camera to every 14 people in Britain and although this is for our own safety – it does help hugely in counter-terrorism  and crime prevention – that doesn’t mean that whoever’s watching is not gaining information on us as well.

Imogen Sheldon


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