Michael McIntyre isn’t the only one who deserves some privacy

Guy Birchall

Topics Politics

Last week, Britain’s National Police Air Service decided that it would be a good use of its time to post on Twitter a photograph of the comedian Michael McIntyre it had taken from one of its helicopters. The photograph was captioned: ‘While on tasking [sic] in central London this morning we spotted a certain energetic funny man… Can you guess who?’ Apparently, our esteemed law enforcement officials didn’t think this could be construed as creepy, intrusive or a total waste of time and resources in any way. Still, while I do think the coppers in the chopper could probably do with a bit of media training, that is not the real issue here.

The real issue is the outrage it caused on Twitter and other social-media platforms due to the police’s thoughtless invasion of McIntyre’s privacy. For once, the perpetually outraged of Twitter got it right. Yes, McIntyre is a public figure, but we have a right to expect that officers of the law not behave like paparazzi or celebrity-obsessed teenagers.

But, while this response was heartening, the outrage was far too late, and far too limited. Where the hell have these people been for the past decade? Every UK citizen, not just ‘energetic funny men’, has their privacy invaded on a daily basis. The only difference between the rest of us and McIntyre is that we’re not as instantly recognisable to larking helicopter pilots.

We are filmed by CCTV cameras in shops, by traffic cameras when we drive, by cashpoint cameras when we draw out a tenner, and at countless other times during the day. In 2013, it was estimated that there was one surveillance camera for every 11 people in the UK, and that the average Briton is caught on camera about 70 times a day. The shocking thing about this is that you, dear reader, will probably not be shocked by this.

We have tacitly accepted this invasion into our personal lives. From CCTV cameras to internet monitoring, our lives are constantly being investigated and screened more than at any other time in human history. For some reason, the prevailing view in the country seems to be ‘if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear’, rather than ‘mind your own damn business’. It’s a dangerous presumption. Are we so dependent on the state these days that we are willing to accept it monitoring our every step and keystroke? It’s all very well saying that it is doing this for our security, that they are the watchmen making sure we are safe. But as writers from Juvenal to Alan Moore have asked down the ages, ‘Who watches the watchmen?’.

Guy Birchall is a writer based in Stoke.

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Topics Politics


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