Before everything went digital, comic books used to be able to tempt youthful readers with various entertaining gadgets for which neither batteries nor frequent top-ups were required.
Stink bombs vied with magic soot and a device that would project the image of a rather stiff model onto your school jotter. But the most tempting, and most remembered, item on those classified pages – the gadget of gadgets – was the Seebackroscope; in reality a rather flimsy pair of spectacles with mirrors in that enabled you to watch people over your shoulder without them realising.
Like the somewhat less convenient plastic periscope – and the enormously complex and impressive Marx Sooper Snooper – the big attraction of the Seebackroscope was that it was covert and furtive in use. You could see them, but they couldn’t see you.
It’s not hard to understand the appeal to a youngster. Kids are always wrong for something, and their natural curiosity has been curbed by generation after generation of parents. ‘Mind your own business.’ ‘It’s rude to stare.’ Sound advice in its way to those who would soon enter the world of teenagers. ‘Who you looking at?’ ‘Seen enough?’
Much better then not to be seen looking. You could do it with these things (at least in theory) as much as you liked without getting into trouble, and there was a special buzz that came from undercover sooper-snooping akin to having Superman’s X-ray vision.
In time, gadgets and voices break and we mature to the realisation that spying on people is just not nice, however you go about it. You spend your teenage years trying not to be watched; trying to get some bloody privacy.
Surveillance cameras are Seebackroscopes for furtive adults and institutions. People who are not prepared to look you in the eye, face to face, hide behind gadgets and gawp at your every move. Concealed behind their ‘I can see you, but you can’t see me’ armoury, they can say what they like about you, think what they like about you – and come to all the wrong conclusions possible about your activities and intentions without ever being called to explain or justify themselves.
What is amusingly mischievous in children is cowardly and unsavoury in adults, and can only serve to further remove remote, already disconnected, institutions and government from the honest people they claim to serve – and who make up over ninety-five per cent of those being snooped upon.
People who believe in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus feel safer because they are being snooped upon hundreds of times a day. They conceive of some benign presence in those cameras watching over them. I’m glad for them that it makes them happy.
Can they believe that removing the police from the streets to fill out forms in some vast TV lounge adds up to a strategy? Cameras don’t fight crime. They are just a subsititute for doing something.
The more areas that are watched by cameras, the less responsibility there is to have any physical presence. Like holding a DNA database of all citizens, apart from the obvious tainting of the innocent, the practical result is that the process becomes unmanageable.
If you collect data only from those who have transgressed, you have a fighting chance of spotting their MO next time. If you have all data from everyone everywhere, you’re back to square one, because you have no basis for evaluation. No protection for the innocent; anonymity on a grand scale for the guilty.
If you use the police to watch the ungodly, it’s likely you will prevent a crime. If they’re watching everybody, it’s many thousands to one against that they’ll ever be in the right place.
For various rather silly reasons, we have colluded in the creation of a society in which perfectly honest and innocent parents can be prevented from filming a school nativity play in case the footage falls into the hands of someone who might enjoy it in an unintended way.
Yet we allow ourselves, our friends and relatives – and yes, our children – to be goggled at, snooped upon and worse, by officially sanctioned skulking voyeurs, cowardly peeping-toms, answerable, not to any of these subjects of their unhealthy interest, but to the increasingly cavalier, incompetent and irresponsible institutions lurking still further behind their modern day Seebackroscopes.