A Bloomberg report of October 22 was concise and uncompromising in declaring Russia to be a surveillance state. Harking back to the good old days of the Cold War, as is increasingly the practice in much of the Western media, Bloomberg recounted that “The fourth of 10 basic rules Western spies followed when trying to infiltrate Russia’s capital during the Cold War — don’t look back because you’re never alone — is more apt than ever. Only these days it’s not just foreigners who are being tracked, but all 12.6 million Muscovites, too. Officials in Moscow have spent the last few years methodically assembling one of the most comprehensive video-surveillance operations in the world. The public-private network of as many as 200,000 cameras records 1.5 billion hours of footage a year that can be accessed by 16,000 government employees, intelligence officers and law-enforcement personnel.”
Terrifying, one might think. Straight out of Orwell’s 1984, that dystopian prediction of what the world could become, as noted in one description of how the face of the state’s symbolic leader, Big Brother, “gazes at you silently out of posters and billboards. His imposing presence establishes the sense of an all-seeing eye. The idea that he is always watching from the shadows imposes a kind of social order. You know not to speak out against The Party — because big brother is watching… The face always appears with the phrase Big Brother is watching you. As if you could forget.” Such is the terrifying Bloomberg picture of Moscow where there are supposedly 200,000 video cameras. You can’t blow your nose without it being seen. And wait for the next phase, in which Big Brother will hear you laugh.
In line with the Western approach, there is little mention of surveillance in other cities, but the website ‘Caught on Camera’ has analysed world-wide practices.
It reports that there are some 25 million closed-circuit surveillance cameras world-wide and “the United Kingdom [with 4 million cameras] has more CCTV activity than any other European country, per capita… surprisingly, the Wandsworth borough in London in particular has more CCTV cameras than Boston,