Thursday, March 23, 2006

1984 Redux

Your every movement is being monitored. Your every trip is being watched. Your every destination noted. Your every companion is seen. You are being watched...

Surveilance CameraSuch notions must have gone through not a few minds when the LTA announced that they will be looking into installing CCTV on every public transport bus and subway train in Singapore in the future. This will most likely involve SBS Transit and SMRT, the two main public transport providers on the island. This is a bid to stay ahead of would-be terrorist designs on our public transport system, which ferries hundreds of thousands of people from one part of the island to another for work and play every day. It is good to know that we can have this extra layer of defence against the unpredictable and often destructive actions of terrorists. This island will become a even safer place to live and work in. But the trade-off is a loss of privacy and a sense that Big Brother is watching a la 1984. You can never be too paranoid.

The other practical concern in the minds of many is, who will pay for all these gadgets, and the on-going monitoring that must be in place to make the system effective? The answer is still up in the air. The powers that be, i.e. the LTA (Land Transport Authority), says that this should not increase the cost of travel. I don't know which school they attended, but its Maths department must be non-existent. We are not talking about $1,000 or even $10,000 but $10 million. Tell me that the commuter will not end up paying part of the $10 million and I'll show you a white elephant.

At the end of the day, I think the paying public must be convinced that, on balance, this expense is worth the extra layer of safety and peace of mind. Otherwise, it will become an onerous cost that will throw up the image of a white elephant all over again. And there won't be just one this time. These white elephants will be running all over the island. I am sure the LTA does not wish to end up chasing and holding these creatures. It has enough problems dealing with escalators on overhead bridges that go only one way.

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