If you live in the UK you’ll be aware of the pervasiveness of Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) systems, which apparently film the average Brit hundreds of times per day (although there are no reliable figures). It turns out this is a pointless exercise. CCTV is rubbish at preventing crime, uneconomical at detecting it, useless at helping to solve it and ineffective at reducing people’s fear of it. In short, CCTV is largely security theatre. The trouble is, it’s easy to implement, and allows politicians to be seen “doing something” about crime and anti-social behaviour (a key concern on The Doorstep, so they keep telling us).
I have three major objections to pervasive CCTV surveillance:
- it introduces other security and privacy risks that wouldn’t otherwise exist;
- the money could be better spent on actual security; and
- Panoptic surveillance changes the behaviour of innocent people.
The CCTV genie won’t be returning to its bottle in the foreseeable future, so we need to push for strategic and legislative changes to address these issues and resolve the failings of the current system. Fortunately, at least one of the three main political parties now seems to agree: the Tories announced Wednesday that a Conservative government would put strict new limits on the use of surveillance cameras. (It will be interesting to see if they follow up the headlines with substantive proposals!) Once again, Spy Blog provides good commentary, along with a commendable wish-list of changes that, if implemented, would see CCTV in the UK transformed from being a privacy-violating white elephant into a legitimate and proportionate crime-fighting tool.
Let’s start an evidence-based debate in favour of making CCTV more respectful of individual privacy, more cost-effective and more than just a sticking plaster on crime in the UK.