By Romelda C. Ascutia

Holding a dog leash in one hand and a pooper scooper in the other, I took our pet dog for his usual nightly exercise. I happened to look up as we were walking along the neighborhood and saw a small circle of LEDs on the awning of one of the houses.

Curious, I inched closer to try and make it out, then recognized what it was: a closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera. I suddenly felt self-conscious staring up at it, fearing someone was staring back at me, and moved on quickly.

These CCTV systems are an amazing invention. They have granted us an almost godlike omnipresence. It used to be that you wonder what people were doing when no one was looking. Now you can find out discreetly. It used to be a comforting thought knowing that no one was around. Now you wonder if someone is watching your every move when you think you are alone.

I sometimes look up while shopping at the grocery store and try to guess where the security cameras are. But the thing is, these gadgets can be practically invisible. It can be hidden inside innocuous-looking clocks, or behind bland walls or pseudo mirrors.

On one hand, the advent of surveillance cameras is a good thing. They help the police catch criminals by identifying faces or replaying what actually transpired when no witnesses were around—or want to come out. In the news, you see instances of how invaluable these CCTV cameras are. Recently a couple of government employees were caught opening a package sent via post to pilfer the money hidden inside a cell phone.

CCTV monitors lay bare the things that are done under a veil of covertness. It shows how a salisi gang fleeces a distracted victim in an Internet shop, how a child is kidnapped in a busy mall, or how a caregiver routinely slaps and kicks the elderly ward he is caring for at home.

On the other hand, the news images are disturbing, shocking. You see Death choke, stab, or shoot someone in grainy images that are not in a movie but in real life. The victim will not stand up after he has been gunned down. The blood on the floor is not ketchup. Will this make us even more inured to the violence and mayhem around us?

The use of CCTV cameras is fast becoming a necessity. I myself am thinking of installing one outside our house after the spate of akyat bahay incidents in our subdivision. But I fear their use is open to abuse and wish it is more closely regulated.

For good or bad, it seems we’ve entered the domain of George Orwell’s Big Brother. Fast becoming a thing of the past are the precious days of privacy and anonymity. So watch your back.