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Poll claims 96% of US citizens support video surveillance

October 22, 2009

A Harris online poll of 2416 adult US citizens, conducted between May 28th and June 1st, 2009, has found a 96% rate of support for federal government video surveillance in ‘specific public places’, according to Reuters.

Further statistics from the survey include an 80% rate of support for ‘any available measures’ to protect citizens in a terrorist attack, and 54% supporting the US of federal stimulus funding for video surveillance. As the press release notes, public support appears to be totally detached from the evidence we have about the limited effectiveness of video surveillance – something is (quite literally) being seen to be done, and this is what appears to matter. Video surveillance is culturally engrained, even expected, as a result of two decades of movies and TV shows which use surveillance as a  theme (from programs like Cops to ‘realityTV’). So in many ways such a result is not altogether surprising.

The poll appears to have been commissioned as part of a PR campaign by an advanced ‘intelligent video surveillance’ company, which has a clearly stated commercial interest, which makes one wonder exactly how the questions were phrased, and how they were asked. The word ‘terrorism’ is mentioned a lot, and I expect there would be a great deal of difference in responses to a similar question that did not mention terrorism (or indeed did not mention the supposed purpose at all), and indeed a survey of people who had read a summary of available research on CCTV would probably once again, result in a different percentage (as economic experiments with ‘willingness to pay’ methods of valuing policy decisions have shown, informed participants make different judgements). I will try to get hold of the raw figures to take a deeper look…

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