Oh, lay off, we haven't started yet! Hear me out, can ya?
Davies argued, at the IEA Voices of Freedom event back in June (reprised at the Tory fringe), that a variety of surveillance tools enhanced liberty rather than detracted from it. Now, I can't subscribe to his defence of DNA swabs for the innocent or widespread ANPR, but on CCTV I have been swayed ...
... albeit not unreservedly.
On Friday, two groups of thugs were sentenced. You will have, no doubt, seen the case of three 'professionals' who beat up a guy on a train journey out of London. You couldn't miss it considering the Daily Mail's screaming it from the rooftops, as well as being the headline story on that evening's ITN London news.
The Mail called it a 'sickening' attack following a simple request; that it was made worse by the post-assault celebrations; and highlighted that the thugs only received suspended sentences for stamping on someone's head. They were correct to be angry on all three counts.
But you may have missed a separate judgment on the same day, again involving three thugs; again instigated by an understandable request; again captured on CCTV; again comprising a foot to the head; and again greeted with a celebratory joke. Fortunately, this case saw the scum jailed for a total of 46 years.
Perhaps it was the poor sentence in the former case that got the Mail hot under the collar, but the latter ended in the death of an IT worker on Halloween last year yet received comparatively little coverage. The CCTV footage of the attack can be viewed here.
Both cases are hideous. Both cases were also brought to a successful prosecution, arguably, thanks to court submission of CCTV footage.
Watch either of those clips and tell me you wouldn't have convicted if you were on the jury. Then ask yourself if the evidence would have been quite so compelling if it were merely a verbal duel between barristers, coupled with testimony which would have come down to a simple 'do I believe the accused or the prosecution?'. Their word against the other's.
CCTV has rendered all such confusing factors obsolete. The jury could barely have a better view of events if they had been there at the time. So, therefore, it must be an incontrovertible 'good thing', yes?
Well, not quite.
Because both cases relied on footage captured by private enterprises, using unmanned equipment. The former was accessed from the ubiquitous train carriage cameras, after the victim reported his assault. Likewise, the crucial evidence in the murder case was not the monitored and manoeuvrable police CCTV, but that from a snooker club's static and unmanned front door camera.
I'm sure there may well be a few times that constantly monitored and manoeuvrable CCTV has effected a fast response to crime, but their being monitored, and manoeuvrable, isn't a deterrent (it was in operation during the murder), and all too often leads to mission creep such as bullying the public.
The problem is not CCTV cameras themselves, but the people who abuse us all by operating them in a disproportionate manner. There is little observable evidence that they deter, but plenty that they oppress and reduce our sense of freedom as a result of their over-zealous application.
Fill the country up with the bloody things as far as I'm concerned, but the footage should only be accessed when a crime has been reported/identified and evidence/action is subsequently required. If, as Philip Davies asserts, they are to be used as a tool for liberty, then human misuse must be eradicated and they must never, ever, be employed to actively seek out inconsequential misdemeanours.
Human nature dicates that CCTV has little use as a deterrent for we forget they are there (Channel 4's Big Brother worked on that very concept), but they do have their place in making us all more free by ensuring that those who commit crimes are rightly taken out of the equation.
Though I'm sure some may disagree.