George Orwell was ahead of his time when, in 1949, he immortalised the expression 'Big brother is watching you' in 1984, a novel in which he set forth his fears of the intrusive nature of totalitarian states. In the imaginary state of Oceania, the moves of everyone were closely monitored by the Thought Police through telescreens that could simultaneously send and receive video and voice signals. Anyone caught thinking or acting against the party was reformed by being brainwashed. In the real world, when Orwell conjured up the telescreen, eavesdropping technology was still rudimentary. But now, sophisticated surveillance devices are not only well developed but also ubiquitous. The Transport Department has long installed video cameras on highways and at junctions to monitor traffic. Inside banks, shopping centres and lifts, surveillance cameras have become a standard installation. Still, the police proposal to do the same at busy pedestrian areas such as Lan Kwai Fong as a crowd control and crime prevention measure has understandably raised privacy concerns. There is a world of difference between having cameras that monitor the flow of vehicles and ones that capture the movement of people. Indeed, when police in London proposed installing surveillance cameras in Oxford Street, the city's busiest shopping area, there was a huge public outcry. But sceptics have since been won over by the contribution of the cameras in catching crooks and preventing crime. Over the past few years, thanks to candid cameras installed by suspicious employers, several domestic helpers have been caught mistreating children under their care. The cases have raised privacy concerns, but the Privacy Commissioner has ruled that families have the right to use such cameras to spy on their domestic helpers if they suspect them of causing mischief or harm. That being the case, an argument against police installing cameras in public places seems hard to sustain. No one likes to be watched. But when one ventures out into the street, one must expect to be watched, while watching others. After all, the citizens of Oceania lived in terror not because of the telescreens themselves but because of a one-party regime that sought to control the thoughts of its people. The SAR does not have a fully democratic system, but it does have constitutional liberalism. To win over an anxious public fearful of prying eyes, the police would be advised to introduce measures to ensure they will not misuse the footage captured by their cameras.