How The Dream Of Spying More On The Public With Cameras Will Likely Decrease Public Safety

from the doubling-down-on-failure dept

Marcus Ranum wrote "Information security's response to bitter failure, in any area of endeavour, is to try the same thing that didn't work -- only harder." It seems that this often applies to the entire security field, not just IT. Here's a timely example.

There have been calls, in the wake of April's bombing at the Boston Marathon, for increased surveillance of Americans -- already, arguably, the most-surveilled and most spied-on citizens on the planet, to such an extent that ex-Stasi staff are likely envious. In particular, there have been calls for mass (camera) surveillance from police department officials in Boston and New York City.

These recommendations clearly raise serious issues about privacy and the Constitution and the values we hold as a society. Others have written about those issues more eloquently than I can. But let me break from their approach and point out something on a much more pragmatic level:

It didn't work.

Let me ask you to consider for a moment the Boston Marathon and all the video/still cameras that were focused on it, the ones whose images were in front of the nation nonstop for days. Anyone who's run in or been to a major distance running event knows that there are cameras everywhere. There are race operation cameras at the start and finish. There are TV news cameras, all over the course -- some fixed, some mobile. There are family/friends of runners and other spectators, concentrated at the start and finish, but scattered everywhere along the course, and nearly all of them have cameras. There are official and unofficial race photographers in multiple locations who try to grab still shots of every runner and then offer them for sale afterwards. There are even some runners wearing cameras from time to time. And then of course there are all the now-ubiquitous cameras on stores, banks, parking garages, traffic signs, and on all kinds of other structures along the way.

We don't know why the those responsible for the attack in Boston did it; but what we do know is that the attack required a modicum of planning and intelligence: they weren't entirely stupid. I submit that there is no possible way that they did not know that the finish area of a major marathon is one of the most heavily-photographed areas of the planet on the day of the event. Yet they not only selected it as their target, they made no attempt at all to evade the massive number of lenses focused on it.

Thousands of cameras equated to zero deterrent value.

Yes, those cameras certainly helped identify and locate the suspects: but that is cold consolation to those who lost life and limb, because they didn't actually prevent the attack. The upcoming prosecution of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, while it might yield some answers to troubling questions, is not going to help local runner Carol Downing's daughters (Nicole Gross suffered two broken legs; Erika Brannock lost part of one of hers) recover and rehab and go on with their lives.

A thousand more, ten thousand more, a hundred thousand more cameras would not help: cameras have no deterrent value to people who are prepared to die and/or don't care if they're identified.

There also remains the distinct, disturbing possibility that the attackers chose the location because they knew it was so thoroughly covered with cameras. An attack like this is clearly directed at those present, but if its real purpose is, as Bruce Schneier observes, to attack the minds of hundreds of millions elsewhere, then it can only reach its targets if the event is heavily documented and widely disseminated.

To put that point another way: it's entirely possible that adding cameras to a particular location will decrease public safety -- because it may make that location more attractive to those who want to make certain their attacks are captured on video and of course, dutifully replayed in slow-motion thousands of times by 24x7 news networks with many hours of airtime to fill.

This brings up another disturbing point: how is it possible that senior law enforcement officials don't recognize such an obvious, major security failure when it's right in front of them? How can they possibly not grasp the simple concept that if a thousand cameras failed to stop the Boston Marathon attack, that ten thousand cameras will fail to stop the next one, and might even influence the attackers' choice of location?

The answer is thus not to add still more cameras: the answer is to refuse to give in. Terrorism doesn't work if its targets -- you, me, and everyone else -- decline to be terrorized.

Runners have already responded: all over the country, many of those have never even thought of trying to qualify for Boston started training for the Boston Marathon 2014 the next morning. (If there wasn't a qualifying standard for the race, they would probably receive a quarter million entries next year.) Fundraisers for The One Fund are being organized at races all over the country; and there is a common banner that will be at at all of them: "Run if you can; walk if you must; but finish for Boston".

That's how you fight terrorism: you simply refuse to yield to it. You don't need more cameras, more wiretaps, more spying, more databases, more secrets, more intrusion. You don't need to declare the Constitution obsolete, as NYC Mayor Bloomberg would like to do. You don't need to cower in fear or to give in to paranoia. And you certainly don't need to redouble your efforts toward an approach that's already been demonstrated not to work.

You only need courage. What kind of courage? This kind: Erika Brannock is the official starter for this Saturday's Baltimore Marathon.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Jay (profile), Oct 11th, 2013 @ 7:59am

    The alternative

    Iirc, Anders Breivik in Norway was on trial for his crimes but the people didn't lose their minds. They told him to write his thoughts and present them to the public.

    You could see how he terrorized people. Yet, since 9/11 we've been gripped with a paranoia that hadn't made us any safer. It's time to end it.

    We need to get people to think again about what is happening to this country. The terror problem is mainly manufactured to help out the military-industrial complex far more than it helps the average citizen.

     

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      TheLastCzarnian (profile), Oct 11th, 2013 @ 10:35am

      Re: The alternative

      My understanding is, after his right-wing rant to the public, opinion polls shifted to the left.

      His actions had the opposite effect of what he desired. An excellent deterent to the next would-be mass-murderer.

      This should be the model for any rational country. Probably why we (the US) decided to opt-out.

       

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    Ninja (profile), Oct 11th, 2013 @ 9:36am

    That's how you fight terrorism: you simply refuse to yield to it. You don't need more cameras, more wiretaps, more spying, more databases, more secrets, more intrusion. You don't need to declare the Constitution obsolete, as NYC Mayor Bloomberg would like to do. You don't need to cower in fear or to give in to paranoia. And you certainly don't need to redouble your efforts toward an approach that's already been demonstrated not to work.

    That. The famous quote comes in perfectly here:

    They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

     

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    arcan, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 9:51am

    Logic is Obsolete - NYC Mayor Bloomberg

     

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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Oct 11th, 2013 @ 10:04am

    "Yes, those cameras certainly helped identify and locate the suspects: but that is cold consolation to those who lost life and limb, because they didn't actually prevent the attack."

    I would point out (before it's pointed out much more rudely) that the odds of anyone preventing the attack was slim no matter what we did. Yet those cameras helped catch those who did it. So as it stands our options are be attacked then find those who did it, or be attacked and not find those who did it.

    Now, as a counter to my own point, the Boston Bombing was a fluke. Cameras are shit for identifying who did what, they mostly just show that something happened and when. I'd much rather have the US as a free country and risk attacks like this then have it as a police state and still risk attacks like this.

     

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      Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Oct 11th, 2013 @ 11:10am

      Re:

      I'd much rather have the US as a free country and risk attacks like this then have it as a police state and still risk attacks like this.
      THIS!
      As nations (US, UK and others) we seem, in our arrogance and stupidity, to have come to a point where we not only think perfect is attainable, but expect and demand perfection;
      Perfect security
      perfect protection for children
      perfect medicine
      perfect safety in ludicrously dangerous jobs
      and on and on
      And when we don't get it we all bleat "SOMEONE must be to blame! You must to better!"

      This is how we accept the unacceptable for the illusion of the unattainable. It has to stop.

       

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    Zakida Paul (profile), Oct 11th, 2013 @ 10:29am

    "You are being watched. The government has a secret system: a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know, because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything. Violent crimes involving ordinary people; people like you. Crimes the government considered 'irrelevant'. They wouldn't act, so I decided I would. But I needed a partner, someone with the skills to intervene. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret. You'll never find us, but victim or perpetrator, if your number's up... we'll find you".

    Person of Interest Season one opening voice-over by Harold Finch

     

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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Oct 11th, 2013 @ 10:31am

    Lets point the cameras at them first and see how the project goes.

     

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    Rikuo (profile), Oct 11th, 2013 @ 10:42am

    Isn't it true that if a group takes hostages, that the first response from law enforcement and the government is "We don't negotiate with terrorists!"? So as to not encourage the next group of hostage takers into committing the crime, in hope of getting whatever it is they want.
    What's going on here is the opposite of that. The government wants us to believe that we're all being held hostage, every minute of every hour of every day, and the only way we can be safe is to give in to the hostage taker's demands, by changing our very society, by caving in to fear.

     

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    MondoGordo (profile), Oct 11th, 2013 @ 10:46am

    A compelling argument ....

    If only we could convince the lily-livered masses to embrace and internalize it. The terrorists win a victory every time we cave to promoters of the surveillance state.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 10:48am

    You only need courage.

    You only need courage.


    COURAGE.

    ON July 3rd, 1863, at about 2 in the afternoon, approximately 13,500 men marched out of cover on Seminary Ridge, and into a mile of open ground. Their guiding objective was a small copse of trees on the opposing Cemetary Ridge.

    AS those three divisions came into the lower ground between the two ridges, they crossed the Emmitsburg Pike, and there the leading elements paused —briefly— to take down the split rail fences which ran along the sides of the Pike. Then they began their march up Cemetary Ridge, towards the small copse of trees.

    About 150 reached the trees on Cemetary Ridge, and took a Union artillery piece, before they themselves were captured or killed.

    Those men had COURAGE. Not just those lucky few who reached the copse of trees: the one-fify, but all thirteen-thousand five-hundred or so who stepped off into that July afternoon. They had COURAGE.

     

     

    General Lee never again ordered a massed Napoleonic charge. Never again.

    If General Longstreet had had his way, General Lee never would have ordered this one, but afterwards, General Lee never ordered another one.

     

     

    In 1914, the Generals of Europe were still ordering their men out from the cover of trenches, to march towards positions defended not just with artillery, and repeaters, but defended with machine guns. Fucking machine guns. For the love of God Almighty. Fucking machine guns. Don't know about the men, but those European generals were just stupid.

    It takes more than just courage. Morale alone is not enough.

     

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      Rikuo (profile), Oct 11th, 2013 @ 10:54am

      Re: You only need courage.

      You can't excuse the soldiers from blame, in my opinion. Yes, you can say they would have been lined up in front of a firing squad, but if the soldier's had, en masse, decided, "Fuck this, there's no point to running out only to get shot, all to gain a few meters of ground at best", what would the generals have done?

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 11:07am

      Re: You only need courage.

      In 1914, the Generals of Europe were still ordering their men out from the cover of trenches, to march towards positions defended not just with artillery, and repeaters, but defended with machine guns. Fucking machine guns. For the love of God Almighty. Fucking machine guns. Don't know about the men, but those European generals were just stupid.

      Go look at a map of the trenches, and tell me what other options they had, other than invading Switzerland at one end, or swimming in the north sea at the other end of the trench line.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 11:28am

        Re: Re: You only need courage.

        Calling a stop to the madness and meeting the enemy for a friendly game of football? Why wait for Christmas?

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 12:53pm

          Re: Re: Re: You only need courage.

          Generals can impose terms with a victory, it takes two sets of politicians to halt a war without a victory for one or other side. Soldiers have families, which limits their options when they are in a war.

           

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 11:03am

    the truth actually is that those in positions of power, the ones that make the decisions that are supposed to keep us safe or at least more safe, DONT WANT THESE PEOPLE STOPPED BEFORE THE DEED IS DONE! if that were to happen, then there would be no reason, no excuse to add more cameras, more police, more anything and everything! the whole aim is to get as much surveillance up and running as quickly as possible! the more people who can be watched from more locations, the more those in control want it! and it's obviously not to stop any illegal action, other than to be able to identify those who are gathering in protest at this very type of thing! the 'police state' is getting closer by the minute and we, the people, will not be able to stop it, because no one will take any notice of what is being said against that happening and the ones who even appear to be 'ring leaders' will be whisked off to prison before they have time to spit!!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 11:07am

    Also the answer

    Terrorism is simply bullying taken to an extreme massive level. This is also the answer to the problems discussed in the previous article on cyber bullying. The answer to the problem is to teach you kids how not to let themselves be affected by the threats of bullies.

     

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    Loki, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 11:20am

    The simple truth, whether some people want to admit it or not, is this really isn't about protecting the people, it's about controlling the people.

    The more September 11ths
    The more Oklahoma Citys
    The more Boston Marathons
    The more Wacos
    The more Columbines
    The more Sandy hooks
    The more validations they have that it is necessary to remove freedoms to provide safety.

    Except that we never receive the promised safety, because that is not what they really want.

    We need just a little more data, a little more secrecy, a little more curtailing of freedoms.

    Even though it has been shown we had all the information necessary to prevent September 11th, but because of the mass of data and the classification and secrecy of much of that data that prevented adequate sharing (not to mention the suggestions/insinuations they didn't want the plot stopped even had they know the full plan) what might have been prevented wasn't.

    We need just a little more data, a little more secrecy, a little more curtailing of freedoms.

    So let's not trim some of the erroneous information, and work to decrease over-classification of data to better coordinate sharing. No, let's ramp up the data minefields, and further enhance restricting, classifying, and secrecy despite the fact those were some of the main causes of our inability to prevent 9/11. Making it even less likely to catch the next serious threat.

    And not surprisingly, even though they had the information, and even though the people responsible for Boston were being investigated, it did nothing to prevent that tragedy. But hey, look at all the fake terror plots we created that resulted in us stopping people who would almost certainly never been a credible threat to anyone.

    We need just a little more data, a little more secrecy, a little more curtailing of freedoms.

    THEN we'll get the truly bad guys. The fact that our efforts (not to mention the fact that we are SO busy making you safer that we've let the economy go to shit, making you broke and destitute as well) are increasingly alienating more and more people thereby increasing the likelihood of someone lashing out is nothing. A minor issue.

    We need just a little more data, a little more secrecy, a little more curtailing of freedoms.

    It'll all be OK in the end, you'll see.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 11:27am

    Cameras aren't good deterrents for suicidal terrorist; they are great deterrents for those who don't want to get identified. Even if the cameras don't stop these would-be anonymous people, they would force a change in procedure. (Like the hollywood bad guys breaking into a bank with precision timing to hit the gaps in camera coverage). So when a politician or law enforcement officer proposes cameras, they aren't targeting terrorists, they are targeting someone else. One possibility: imagine if a government could instantaneously identify everyone who attended an anti-government political rally, then add them to the "list." That might not deter the hardcore members of a movement, but it would act as a strong deterrent for the as-not-yet committed public. And without the public, a political movement is meaningless.

    In other words: cameras are a *great* deterrent for political change.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 11:31am

    They should be careful with the powers they give themselves. Their successors will use them too, and God save their souls (Who am I kidding? They only worship money, hide behind a cult of personality, and have no souls.) if their successors' sole intent is retaliation against their old oppressors. Repealing them at the last second won't work either, for New Boss will just reinstall them using the Old Boss' methods as justification.

     

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    Anon, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 11:37am

    The Real Problem

    The real problem is ot a lack of cameras.

    the real problem is identifying the stuff in front of yor face...
    When the country fighting a muslim insurgency - Russia - tells you that someone has been in contact with that group and returned to the USA, maybe a deeper investigaton is in order.
    If you admit people as refugees in fear for their lives, and they then later return to the place they left for a vacation - maybe you should smell a rat.

    Just like if you arrest someone who for no particular reason is taking flight lessons and is too stupid to hide his intention "no need to learn to land", maybe investigation is more important than bureaucratic rectal protection.

    But these things would mean stirring the pot, upsetting a bunch of entrenched people and getting answers you really don't want to hear.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 11:38am

    There also remains the distinct, disturbing possibility that the attackers chose the location because they knew it was so thoroughly covered with cameras. An attack like this is clearly directed at those present, but if its real purpose is, as Bruce Schneier observes, to attack the minds of hundreds of millions elsewhere, then it can only reach its targets if the event is heavily documented and widely disseminated.

    This is idiotic. Of course these shitbags were looking for publicity and any major sporting event would provide the renown they were looking for. Most of the footage on the news captured the cowardly act and resulting mayhem. I don't recall seeing much surveillance footage EXCEPT for that which identified this human garbage as suspects. So the leap to the conclusion that an increase surveillance cameras begets as juicier terrors target as absolutely absurd.

    In this case, the surveillance cameras made it certain those two psychopaths didn't escape back to Chechnya.

    Of the long list of pathetic justifications here on TD, this one certainly merits special recognition for its tortured and desperate logic.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 11:44am

      Re:

      Ahhhh... apologies for the grammar/spelling. Shouldn't talk on the phone and type.

       

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      John Fenderson (profile), Oct 11th, 2013 @ 1:21pm

      Re:

      In this case, the surveillance cameras made it certain those two psychopaths didn't escape back to Chechnya


      No, they didn't. The pictures of the bombers didn't come from surveillance cameras. They came from random ordinary people photographing/videoing the event. The actual surveillance cameras were pretty close to worthless.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 11:39am

    Legal Name change!!!

    Maybe we should change the words "Law Enforcement" to "Legal Retaliation". Maybe more concise phrasing will help people understand how it works better!

     

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    Baldaur Regis (profile), Oct 11th, 2013 @ 12:12pm

    The persistence of the idea that if only we had more data we could catch bad guys before they act is a dream. Or more precisely, a dysfunctional application of a process hardwired into the human brain: pattern recognition.

    Spymasters would have us believe that with a perfect, comprehensive dataset on every person on earth, the bad actors would have to stand out. They're looking for a signal in the noise. Like the people who swear they can hear dead people speaking in the static of their TV sets, pattern recognition is the process that leads them to know - in their guts - that if they just look hard enough, at a large enough sample, randomness can be resolved into something intelligible.

    But the randomness of human existence is just that - random. Look at it hard enough, long enough, and you'll see what you want to see. A needle in a haystack? They're collecting a haystack of needles. And in the process, turning what was a pretty cool planet into a fucked up police state.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 12:44pm

    There is one important thing to consider.

    We already have large numbers of cameras everywhere, the government actually has fewer cameras than the general public have at any given location.

    So the argument that more cameras would make us less safe because it would encourage others to do something in front of them seems a bit weak.

    For deterrence is useless, it can't deter anything.

    I believe people will start wearing more clothes though, ones that make automated surveillance a pain.

     

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    Anonymoose, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 1:02pm

    They sell it as 'stop the next one', but that's just being openly dishonest.

    Cameras and persistent tracking are very good in after-the-fact forensic reconstruction and investigation of an event.

    They are not in any way preventive.

     

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    ipgrunt (profile), Oct 11th, 2013 @ 1:04pm

    This is an old argument with a new spin, that's been on the public agenda since the 1972 Munich Olympic murders and throughout the evolution of Islamic terrorism.

    When it comes to terrorism and cameras, all parties have an angle.

    Terrorists are looking for media coverage for publicity, legitimacy, and to seek a favorable understanding of their cause.

    Government wants to appear in control when telling the terror story, and to demonstrate how essential law and order is in everyone's daily life. They are also getting better with controlling the outflow of information.

    Television wants to be first with "news", they want drama, and these days they want to be part of the story.

    Victims want safety and retribution.

    With this dynamic, all parties want more cameras, except maybe those of us who think about privacy. Unfortunately, the emotional impact of seeing dead children on the TV will trump privacy every time.

     

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    Crusty the Ex-Clown, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 1:04pm

    I agreed until I reached this:

    "We don't know why the those responsible for the attack in Boston did it; but what we do know is that the attack required a modicum of planning and intelligence: they weren't entirely stupid."

    IMHO anyone who stands next to a bomb detonated by radio control AND chats on a cell phone for a few minutes is either stupid, crazy, or suicidal (or all three). And, yes, I am a broadcast engineer. They were very stupid; if we'd been lucky they'd have entirely stupid and blown only themselves up.

     

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      Brazenly anonymous, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 6:25pm

      Re: I agreed until I reached this:

      There are many forms of intelligence, and equally many kinds of stupidity. Just because someone is thoroughly deficient in one area, doesn't mean they are in all other areas. I would have thought the widely available data on savants and the autistic would have made this clear by now.

      Yeah, they are stupid when it comes to setting goals. That doesn't necessarily make them stupid about implementing those goals.

       

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    Spaceman Spiff (profile), Oct 11th, 2013 @ 6:35pm

    Insanity

    Isn't this, "Marcus Ranum wrote "Information security's response to bitter failure, in any area of endeavour, is to try the same thing that didn't work -- only harder.", the definition of insanity? IE, continually trying something that doesn't work again, and again...

     

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    Radiosity, Oct 13th, 2013 @ 8:15am

    "already, arguably, the most-surveilled and most spied-on citizens on the planet"

    I would argue not actually (at least as far as surveillance goes, not so much the spying), largely because my own dump of a country has that sewn up (UK).

    There are currently estimated to be around 6 million cameras in this country. With a population approaching 64 million that's one camera for roughly every 10-11 people.

    How much has all this surveillance helped with cutting crime and terrorism and so on? I doubt you'd need two hands to count it.

    China's government probably looks at the UK with a certain degree of envy at this point.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 13th, 2013 @ 8:23am

      Re:

      Haha, been doing a little digging on Google and wow, you guys have been busy. Seems you have something like 30 million cameras of various sorts going now, that's pretty impressive (in a disturbing way).

      So on pure numbers you're definitely ahead, but given a large percentage of those are probably concentrated in cities and other large population areas, we probably still beat you for sheer percentages of the population being surveilled simply due to how small and compact the country is compared to America's vast landmass.

      It's sad that we're even able to compare on this. Land of the Free? The country that stopped Germany during the worst war in history? You wouldn't think they were the same places now.

       

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