CCTV – Benefits and Controversies

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1. History

CCTV (closed-circuit-television) is a TV system in which signals are privately monitored for the purposes of surveillance and security. It’s rather ubiquitous and can be found on streets, in buildings, and in homes.

The earliest documented use of CCTV was in Germany in 1942, and was used for the monitoring of V-2 rockets. CCTV first came to the UK in the 1960s when the police introduced two temporary cameras to Trafalgar Square to monitor crowds during the Thai Royal Family’s visit to London (transport control). In the 1970s, live-feed CCTV was replaced by video surveillance. Since videos could be stored for later analysis, the applicability of CCTV expanded immensely. CCTV was mostly used by law enforcement and businesses (banks, insurance companies, etc.).

The 1990s was the era of commercial CCTV use, with the invention of the nanny cam. CCTV became more popular both within the home and on the streets.After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, government and law enforcement agencies increased the number of cameras used. There are now ~6 million CCTV cameras in use across the UK.

Nowadays, in the United Kingdom, the vast majority of CCTV cameras are not operated by government bodies, but by private individuals or companies, especially to monitor the interiors of shops and businesses. According to 2011 Freedom of Information Act requests, the total number of local government operated CCTV cameras was around 52,000 over the entirety of the UK.

2. Map

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In this map, you can see the localisation of all CCTV security cameras in the South of the Thames. As you can see, in all streets, corners, squares, more than one surveillance camera is located. In London, CCTV is in every district and almost every street.

3. The Impact on Security

There is estimated to be 1 security camera for every 32 people in the UK. As a country, we are the most surveilled in the world. But does this keep us any safer than other countries? According to statistics, apparently not. Although CCTV offers police a vital resource for finding evidence in order to convict criminals, it does not prevent crime as such.

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In this graph we can see that although London is not the highest, it is pretty shocking nevertheless since the graph is comparing London to whole cities. For instance, the robbery rate in London alone is higher than the robbery rate in the US as a whole. However, we must of course consider that where the US in concerned, population may have had an effect on the statistics since this graph is showing robbery rate per 100,000 people in the country.

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This graph is more specific since it shows just cities and not countries. Now when we look at the graph, although London has the highest amount of robberies in a year, it is not drastically different to New York. London does have a higher population that New York, however, the difference in populations is not enough to constitute for the difference in amount of robberies. We must ask questions surrounding the effectiveness of London’s CCTV in order to create a safer and more secure environment.

4. Controverses and limits: a threat to fundamental freedom?

The development of CCTV was seen by many as a breakthrough to prevent the country’s crime. It is an important part of the crime prevention strategy in the United Kingdom and is often used as important evidence in trials and in the identification of suspects.

However, the proliferation of CCTV cameras in public places has caused some concern about the erosion of civil liberties and individual human rights, along with warnings of an Orwellian “big brother” culture. Critics say that constant CCTV surveillance of public places is intrusive and a breach of privacy.

CameraWatch [the UK watchdog on CCTV compliance with the Data Protection Act] said that more than 90% of CCTV systems did not comply with the law. Less than 10% were operated and legally managed in accordance with data protection legislation. The organization warned that it would be “too easy” for anyone to challenge the CCTV evidence in a court of law because of the way the images were collected and administered.

The CCTV system has been severely criticized by fundamentalists, who claimed the lack of respect for civil liberties. They updated XXth century philosophical theories, such as:
Foucault > correlation between social control, power and dominance. By restricting the behaviour of individuals, in a society where ervey interactions between people would be controlled, the CCTV system appears as a threat of freedom, according to foucault’s thesis.



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