The Dean of Paderborn University Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Nikolaus Risch for the video surveillance of lecture halls and computer rooms in "his" university.
By using video cameras, Dr. Risch is perpetuating the present misconception that "surveillance" would equal "security". The cameras purpose, according to the official statement, is to prevent theft of computers and projectors. Dr. Risch, a representative of our educational elite, has thus fallen for the propaganda of the - to use a terribly misleading term - "security industry".
Dear Dr. Risch: Cameras do not prevent theft. That's what locks, metal ropes and clamps are for. Video cameras are expensive and passive. They only record, and there is a possibility that these recordings might be used as evidence after a crime. But video cameras also violate the privacy of your students, the young people for whose unrestricted mental development you are responsible. Video cameras unsettle and inhibit people as they can no longer feel unwatched. Which student would want be seen picking his nose on some cable channel showing "The World's Most Stupid Students"?
And it's not just plain old cameras that are watching auditoriums. Dr. Risch has even opted for dome cameras, where people can't even see which way the camera is looking. There is only one conclusion: what this surveillance scheme is about is the omnipresent Big Brother's eye, about installing a deterrent and instilling a feeling of "they are watching you everywhere".
Every year the Big Brother Awards jury is swamped with dozens of letters from people complaining about video surveillance threatening to become an omnipresence. There are absurd, very absurd, utterly absurd and mega absurd cases of video surveillance.
Some examples reported to us this year:
The senate of Hamburg would like to cover the whole city with video surveillance. Seems that even after the exit of far-right populist Roland Schill's party, the governing coalition is still out of its senses.
A McDonalds restaurant in the town of Gießen has introduced video monitoring, so now the world knows that this is an extra-dangerous place. Perhaps "Honey Bunny and Pumpkin", the gangster couple from "Pulp Fiction", had better wear masks for their own safety here, if they decide it's worth a raid.
We can hardly keep count of public transport companies introducing video equipment. If travelling without being filmed is what you want, you can forget about public transport: it's practically impossible to escape surveillance in stations, buses and trains. As early as 2000 we awarded Hartmut Mehdorn, head of German Railways, in the "authorities and administration" category for his "3S" scheme ("security, service, spotlessness"). [Yes, we were aware that German Railways is actually a plc, no longer an authority.] Not a single camera has been removed so far.
In Nuremberg, there is a plan to phase out staff in the underground system, setting people free to join the 1-Euro job market probably. Underground trains are to run fully automated, while stations of course are to be fully monitored. What is being sold as a technical necessity, and some times as "vandalism protection" is in fact nothing but a huge transfer of money to the electronics industry. The service contracts for these systems are "golden cows" for their makers.
If there is no unmonitored train journey, is the car the last refuge? Far from it. The German road toll system, which received the Big Brother Award in 2002, is technologically an advanced video surveillance system. It would cover all kinds of roads and crossings all over the country, recording all vehicles with their registration numbers and processing their data in order to "award" fines and penalties. If for example, one would set off in the centre of Kassel at 12 p.m. and arrive 50 km south in the centre of Göttingen just 20 minutes later, it would be clear that speed limits must have been broken.
That's not a joke - schemes like that have not only been suggested, there have even been pilot projects, some of them illegal.
There is hardly a village these days where town councillors or mayors are not thinking aloud of video-monitored bottle banks. Looking through regional papers on the internet, which often publish the records of town council meetings, one might be forgiven for seeing oneself in a madhouse, where the patients administrate themselves. One silly scheme of video surveillance after another is designed and trumpeted.
Freedom and human rights don't seem to matter. Only in the cage are we really free, seems to be the motto. To every inmate their own private security troll!
The most beautifully absurd example reported to us comes from the town of Montabaur. To quote the report:
"The mayor of Montabaur, in his function as head of the local police, is having video material - recorded by traffic police looking for speeding offences but not actually capturing any such offence - analysed to find drivers whose facial expressions or gestures would suggest an insult against traffic wardens, in order to report such findings to the authorities."
It is this trend of thoughtless stupidity that is now joined by the dean of Paderborn University. A university - in contrast to a bottle bank - is supposed to be a place of education, wisdom and enlightenment. In the words of Immanuel Kant himself: Sapere aude! Have the courage to use your own wisdom.
The university of Paderborn especially deserves this award because in his welcome message the dean underlines the motto of the "university of the information society". According to this message the university wants to "advance the scientific and technological development of the information society, provide guidance and criticism, open the eye for fundamental values of our culture but at the same time use opportunities given by the knowledge or information society."
This ambition is not fulfilled if the university does not engage in discussing the consequences of uninhibited use of technology. Because you, Dr. Risch, have not lived up to your function as a role model, but rather approve of surveillance measures just like any small mayor, shop owner or party populist, you are recognized in this year's Big Brother Awards.
Congratulations, Prof. Dr. Nikolaus Risch.