‘You might not be who you say you are, but luckily I’ve got your picture already’: Surveillance disrupting due process

Caitlin Overington

PhD Candidate, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne

Declaring footage to be decisive and data to be objective is increasingly common as surveillance becomes an entrenched way of seeing crime. Progressively a social practice in itself, surveillance – through technological apparatuses – ties people and places together and creates connections not necessarily knowable without these assemblages. Through this normalisation of ‘seeing surveillantly’ however, the increasing ‘clarity’ of vision must be interrogated against the continued opacity of criminal justice procedures in Australia. In an environment of soaring investment in and support for surveillance technologies in city spaces, recent interviews reveal a function creep; installed to prevent crime and promote safety, surveillance apparatuses (such as public CCTV) are also being used to coerce subjects into pleading guilty for offences, as the ‘footage is decisive’. These examples are lauded as an efficient way to reduce demand on the criminal justice system, which is chronically overwhelmed. These emerging trends are of concern for multiple reasons. Firstly, such data produced from surveillance is not entirely objective. Producing instead a narrative with strict visual, temporal and spatial frames, it often shields other mitigating circumstances. Secondly, an overreliance on surveillance material as premium evidence threatens to undermine the progress of cases presented with an absence of surveillance visuals, or with conflicting accounts. Finally and perhaps most importantly, insisting that individuals bear the burden of systemic issues in courts by pleading guilty to an act without understanding its related offence(s) threatens to undermine due process. Through case study analyses and drawing from interviews conducted with council workers in Melbourne and Liverpool, this paper will demonstrate how the criminal justice system must adapt its discretionary practices in light of seeing more.

Biography

Caitlin is in the final stages of completing her PhD in Criminology at the University of Melbourne. Her thesis explores how the consequences of investment in surveillance technologies may be reconfigured and understood. More broadly, her research also explores themes of security, visibility and urban governance. Caitlin has published work on the domestication of drone technologies within city spaces and also an exploration of light as control in city events. She is a member of the Research Unit into Public Cultures, the Urban Environments Research Network, the Surveillance Studies Network and the Law, Literature & the Humanities Association of Australasia.

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