against better knowledge, I recently spent a week in England and Scotland. During my stay, I noticed the decidedly pleasant and subtle way of the British in both surveilling their citizens and warning them of terrorism.
Smile, you're on CCTV – this funny slogan boasted at the door of every store even back in 2007 when I last visited England, and informed people that this business employed video surveillance. This time it was much worse…
Whether you're on public transport, walking in the streets, in a museum, at a train station, or at the airport – no matter where you are, you are constantly reminded of the surveillance. Not only via a poster, or a sign, but even acoustically. No 10 minutes pass in which you don't hear this announcement at a station or an airport: "For your safety and security CCTV is in operation!". No 5 minutes in which you don't see a poster, that reminds you to watch your belongings and report any suspicious behaviour to the authorities.
It's probably nothing, but… – with this beautiful saying the major security authorities encourage the common British to increased attention. Everybody watches everybody else permanently on every step. I'd like to emphasize two key experiences which made me think. Both of them cover an everyday problem, I wanted to get rid of some garbage:
1. Edinburgh Waverly Station
As I previously mentioned, I wanted to get rid of some garbage and was looking for a litter bin at Edinburgh Central Station (Edinburgh Waverly). When I was unable to find a single litter bin even after an extensive search, I asked the station staff, who told me that there were no garbage bins at the station, due to the risk of terror attacks…
2. London St. Pancras International Station
At London St. Pancras International, I was faced with the same problem, I wanted to throw away some trash, so I asked another passenger waiting at the station to watch my backpack, while I look for a trash bin. He responded politely but firmly that he would like to do that, but he didn't expect the security personal to believe him, that he was just watching the stuff for me, so he refused.
I think these two experiences show on one hand the "paranoia" of the security organisations in the UK, and on the other hand the lack of trust of the public in the authorities.
In retrospective I must say I felt the same. This kind and this omnipresence of surveillance is too much. I didn't feel safe, I felt restricted, watched and even patronized. And looking at the current development I doubt things will change in the forseeable future…
It saddens me. deeply.