The decision by Oxford County Council to equip taxis with CCTV devices filled me with horror, not least because it began to dawn on me just what might emerge if I was ever to find myself in a vehicle with such kit!
The council’s decision though goes far beyond fears of our drunken ramblings and back of cab fumbles being captured. It serves as a warning about how our hard fought civil liberties can be easily eroded under the guise of 'safety' and 'protection', unless we citizens remain vigilant and determined to protect them.
A spokesman for the Council said that viewing what is captured on the devices "must relate to a specific complaint/incident/investigation," but that's hardly reassuring. CCTV in cabs is a gross invasion of privacy, and once the device is there, it can be abused. The phrase ‘thin edge of the wedge’ comes to mind.
Nobody of any sense would want Oxford cabbies to face violent or threatening behavior, but we do not, should not, live in a police state where our private interactions our monitored. Would it be ok to have CCTV in hotel rooms, just because people occasionally get drunk and rowdy, and steal the hairdryer? Should we all be forced to fit our cars with GPS or similar CCTV devices on the off chance we commit a crime while in it?
CCTV in buses and trains in one thing, but we pay a privacy premium for taxis. The back of a taxi can be regarded as a private place, and there is something distinctly wrong, almost menacing, about them having internal surveillance. Saying if you've done nothing wrong you've got nothing to worry about has never been a good enough argument for such attacks on our civil liberties.
This government has done much to rebalance the situations after the decade long raid on civil liberties conducted by the previous Labour government. However, this new political culture must trickle down to increasingly independent local government too, and residents of towns should not have to suffer the illiberal whims of local officials attempting to win favor with one part of the community.
I accept that some cabbies may welcome the power of having a CCTV system, but us passengers should be appalled.