The Big Brother nightmare of George Orwell’s 1984 has become a reality – in the shadow of the author’s former London home.
It may have taken a little longer than he predicted, but Orwell’s vision of a society where cameras and computers spy on every person’s movements is now here.
Foresight: The cameras crowd George Orwell’s former London home
According to the latest studies, Britain has a staggering 4.2million CCTV cameras – one for every 14 people in the country – and 20 per cent of cameras globally. It has been calculated that each person is caught on camera an average of 300 times daily.
Use of spy cameras in modern-day Britain is now a chilling mirror image of Orwell’s fictional world, created in the post-war Forties in a fourth-floor flat overlooking Canonbury Square in Islington, North London.
On the wall outside his former residence – flat number 27B – where Orwell lived until his death in 1950, an historical plaque commemorates the anti-authoritarian author. And within 200 yards of the flat, there are 32 CCTV cameras, scanning every move.
Orwell’s view of the tree-filled gardens outside the flat is under 24-hour surveillance from two cameras perched on traffic lights.
The flat’s rear windows are constantly viewed from two more security cameras outside a conference centre in Canonbury Place.
In a lane, just off the square, close to Orwell’s favourite pub, the Compton Arms, a camera at the rear of a car dealership records every person entering or leaving the pub.
Within a 200-yard radius of the flat, there are another 28 CCTV cameras, together with hundreds of private, remote-controlled security cameras used to scrutinise visitors to homes, shops and offices.
The message is reminiscent of a 1949 poster to mark the launch of Orwell’s 1984: ‘Big Brother is Watching You’.
In the Shriji grocery store in Canonbury Place, three cameras focus on every person in the shop. Owner Minesh Amin explained: ‘They are for our security and safety. Without them, people would steal from the shop. Although this is a nice area, there are always bad people who cause trouble by stealing.’
Three doors away, in the dry-cleaning shop run by Malik Zafar, are another two CCTV cameras.
‘I need to know who is coming into my shop,’ explained Mr Zafar, who spent £400 on his security system.
This week, the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) produced a report highlighting the astonishing numbers of CCTV cameras in the country and warned how such ‘Big Brother tactics’ could eventually put lives at risk.
The RAE report warned any security system was ‘vulnerable to abuse, including bribery of staff and computer hackers gaining access to it’. One of the report’s authors, Professor Nigel Gilbert, claimed the numbers of CCTV cameras now being used is so vast that further installations should be stopped until the need for them is proven.
One fear is a nationwide standard for CCTV cameras which would make it possible for all information gathered by individual cameras to be shared – and accessed by anyone with the means to do so.
The RAE report follows a warning by the Government’s Information Commissioner Richard Thomas that excessive use of CCTV and other information-gathering was ‘creating a climate of suspicion’.