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The price of privacy : Councils spend half a billion pounds on CCTV in four years

Our latest report highlights the cost to local authorities of their CCTV operations – £515m in the past four years.

There are now at least 51,600 CCTV cameras controlled by local authorities, with five councils now operating more than 1,000 cameras. In comparison, £515m would put an extra 4,121 police constables on the streets – the equivalent of Northumbria police’s entire force.

The picture varies massively across the country, as you can see from our interactive map below, the huge increase in surveillance has not been a co-ordinated and intelligence-led response to crime, but a haphazard and badly measured rush to spy on citizens. The variations in how much councils were able to tell us, and the wide range of different structures in place to manage and monitor cameras, highlights the need for a national review of CCTV and its regulation.

As part of the report, we are calling for five changes to improve the way CCTV is regulated and evaluated. We believe the Government should:

  • Give the CCTV regulator the powers to enforce the code of practice
  • Require any publicly funded CCTV installation to refer to crime statistics or demonstrate a significant risk of harm before being commenced
  • Require public bodies to publish the instances where their CCTV cameras have been used in securing a conviction, and for what offences 
  • Require public bodies to publish in a standardised format the locations of their cameras (save for those used in direct protection of sites at risk of terrorism)
  • Begin a consultation on regulating private CCTV cameras, both those operated by commercial companies and by private individuals

You can download  the full report now.

Britain has an out-of-control surveillance culture that is doing little to improve public safety but has made our cities the most watched in the world. Figures suggest that Britain is home to 20% of the world’s population of CCTV cameras, despite being home to just 1% of the world’s population. One study suggested the average Londoner is caught on camera more than 300 times every day.

Surveillance is an important tool in modern policing but it is not a substitute for policing. In too many cities across the country every corner has a camera but only a few ever see a police officer. Seven local authorities now have more CCTV cameras than Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds combined.

Despite millions of cameras, Britain’s crime rate is not significantly lower than comparable countries that do not have such a vast surveillance state.

In an age of squeezed budgets, councils continue to pour huge amounts of money into technology that indiscriminately monitors us all as potential criminals, while the actual causes of crime go ignored. Britain has become one of the most ‘watched’ societies in the world, far outstripping some authoritarian regimes, and the fervour with which some groups defend their ‘right’ to monitor us all is a social ill that few would recognise as a sign of a healthy, civil society.

When a camera is being installed, and when decisions are being made to replace them, all we are asking is that the evidence be considered. If, as we found recently with Transport for London, 9 in 10 cameras are not used by the police, then there can be little justification for continuing to divert significant resources away from alternatives which would do more to improve public safety without the wholesale invasion on our privacy that CCTV entails.

The price of this surveillance is more than just money, but a fundamental part of a free and fair society.




Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in CCTV, Civil Liberties, Councils, Home, Protection of Freedoms Bill, Research and reports, Surveillance

78 Responses to The price of privacy : Councils spend half a billion pounds on CCTV in four years

  1. Pingback: Big Brother Watch publishes report on CCTV costs by local authority | CjScotland

  2. Anonymous

    You can’t even get your figures correct in your own report (the full report, page 5) – 4.2m cameras is an outdated and discredited figure. Go ask the authors of the original figure if you don’t believe me. A far more robust estimate is 1.85 million. The average person is not viewed 300 times a day by CCTV – that figure is outdated and even its author said it was only hypothetical, based on an improbable journey around London.

    And what’s the point of this research? That we could spend the money on police officers instead? Increasing the police force by 4000 would be a two per cent increase in manpower. You might as well say let’s do away with the fingerprint and DNA labs and put more officers on the beat because we’d catch more criminals that way.

    • Mr Jolly

      What a shock, security industry magazine says CCTV is great. No surprise there. Why don’t you go away and look at the facts and realise that you are mistaken. Why do you guys simply ignore the research? – such as definitive study into CCTV’s effects on crime, a meta-analysis of 41 separate studies (Campbell Collaboration, 2008) which echoed and reinforced all the previous studies (except those not done by the CCTV industry itself!) that CCTV has had “NO SIGNIFICANT EFFECT ON CRIME.”

      Plenty more facts here if you want them: http://www.no-cctv.org.uk/caseagainst/reports.asp

      • Mr Jolly

         (except those *done* by the CCTV industry itself!)


        • Ianblokes

          As an ex Police officer having been a Crime Reduction Officer for many years I was often asked should I invest in CCTV or locks and bolts? The answer I would give is “CCTV doesn’t jump off a wall and stop the offender and a lock won’t be stopped by a hoddie or baseball cap”.

          99% of the installed CCTV that I have come across, be it commercial or local authority are pretty poor, over priced, over engineered and under performing. But this isn’t just the industrys fault, it’s lack of understanding as to what purpose the equipment is meant to perform.Is it to capture number plates of a moving vehicle at night in the rain? to provide identification standards at court or just to see if anything is moving in wide field of view so an operator can then zoom in? Every CCTV camera needs a specfic operational requirement (O.R) that can be given to an installer to acheive. If it doesn’t meet that standard then it’s a breach of contract and they shouldn’t get paid. I’m pretty sure the industry would then sit up and take notice.

          That said I think this chain has been a bit on fair on the CCTV industry.Often they are only supplying what has been asked for ” I need a CCTV system as a condition of my alcohol licence” so the saying goes “rubbish in rubbish out” comes to mind.

          What is required is a robust and independent licencing of both public and commercial systems that can verify that it’s fit for purpose (i.e recording, has an O.R. in line with its risk , is fit for the purpose it’s intented for and DPA registered). If it doesn’t meet this criteria then the licence is withdrawn and the system can’t be used.

          In short the reason why so little crime is prevented by CCTV is that offenders are so used to getting away without being recognised due to failings in its use, maintenance or installation that it’s often just ignored. If every camera was used effectively, legally and for a purpose then not only would offenders be deterred, but civil liberties would be safe guarded.

          Any views?

          • Pat Kirby

            Why can’t the general public have access to publlcly funded CCTV, council run systems? It seems entirely democratic – what legitimate objections could there be, are we not trusted?

      • securitynewsdesk

        Dear Mr. Jolly,

        If I didn’t believe in what I was doing, I would start looking for another job tomorrow, so please don’t try to impugn my integrity.

        I note in your reply you didn’t address any of the issues in my original comment. Which figure do you quote when talking about CCTV? 4.2 million or 1.85 million? http://www.securitynewsdesk.com/2011/03/01/how-many-cctv-cameras-in-the-uk/

        I maintain that the wrong question is being asked about CCTV. Neither CCTV nor the police are very effective at “deterring” crime, but both come into their own when it comes to investigating it.

        The Met Police found that 7 out of 10 murders in London relied heavily on CCTV evidence. I note that the police didn’t stop any of those murders for occuring, but they did their best to investigate the crime and they acknowledge that CCTV helped them significantly.

        Victims of crime repeatedly say they are delighted when the perpetrators are caught on camera because it supports their claim about what happened and hopefully leads to an identification of the perpetrator or, in some cases, a key witness.

        I think we need to get over this sterile debate about whether CCTV is “good” or “bad” and acknowledge its place in modern policing.

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  4. Ajax

    We’re well on the road to oblivion – let the revolution commence!

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  7. James

    £1.5 M for 5 cameras in Chelmsford?!?
    £0 for 2 cameras in North Dorset?
    How about getting the facts correct before publishing?

  8. Anon

    How do you even decide what is a “direct risk of terrorism”? I mean even my college had a risk assessment of there being at biological terrorist attack. You can twist and turn that into basically the entire country is at a direct risk of terrorism.

  9. Pingback: Britain pushes for mass surveillance society « This Day – One Day

  10. Michael Roberts FRAS

    It’s just ridiculous the amount of money these governments will spend. Perhaps invest that half a billion in social and community programs and you might not see so much crime!

  11. Marian McDonagh

    I live on a council estate that has blanket CCTV recently installed (without any consultation) but WE are going to have to pay for this in service charges.  We will have to pay the council to watch us!!  It makes me so cross. The council is institutionally prejudiced towards social housing tenants and treats us like scum. I am no longer a free person, might as well live in an open prison.

  12. mastif ron

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  13. adam bonner

    I’m an opponent of indiscriminate surveillance by the State. I find it offensive and rude to be monitored; to have my personal information collected and stored on a database; and to have that personal information accessed by various agencies including local government and the police. I don’t think that just because a very small proportion
    (2-3%) of the population commits crimes that my civil rights and anonymity should be trampled upon. Nor does the evidence suggest these cameras reduce crime. Whether they assist with prosecutions is dependent on many factors including the quality of the footage; whether police take the time to review footage (in many cases they don’t because they can’t be bothered or they don’t have time); whether the person of interest is looking at the camera; and whether the person of interest has their face covered. We need more research into crime clear up rates, but just because police use CCTV footage to assist in higher profile (celebrity) cases doesn’t mean a great deal if the clear up rates in general aren’t higher in areas with CCTV.
    I’ve always maintained the need to be skeptical of the State’s desire to increase its power, particularly where it means taking away freedoms we have heretofore maintained. One of our most important protections in a free and fair society is our anonymity. Indiscriminate surveillance, which is what public space CCTV does, takes this away. The State has never been allowed to indiscriminately collect fingerprints or DNA. Why on earth should it be trusted with our visual images. In the past, and still today with some forms of surveillance, the police need to show reasonable cause before a magistrate in order to be granted the right to undertake intrusive surveillance measures. Why should local government have the power to set aside this noble protection of our liberty!

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  17. David Beach

    City of Glasgow spent £0? Did they steal them from Edinburgh…

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  21. rosh

    Does the author also rite for the daily mail? the picture seems is pretty useless unless you have crime rates per a capita to compare with. The reson why there are so few convivctions are beacuse the cameras are very poor quality most people probably have better cameras on there phone. If having them everywhere helps solve even one murder or solve one
    abduction it’s worth it. Camera’s are in public places and anything you
    would have a problem with others seeing is something you shouldnt be
    doing and those located in private areas are again there to keep people
    from doing what they shouldn’t

    • rosh

      i now my grammer is terrible
      **seems pretty)

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  33. Anon

    Seems to me that any amount of coverage is better than none. Look at what’s happened with that poor kid in Wales, at least with decent CCTV she’d have been seen getting int the car. Maybe everyone complaining about CCTV is a closet peadophile.

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  35. KB

    Let’s not be scared of technological progress. It has its benefits as well as its problems. Regulatory oversight usually lags behind technical development, as it has done in so many other areas (see social media).

    Are HD IP cameras urban saviours or civic threats? Who knows? http://www.networkwebcams.co.uk/blog/2013/01/07/ip-cameras-urban-saviours-or-civic-threats/

  36. Gerry Dorrian

    So how does Cambridge City Council justify spending £5,000,000 on CCTV when neighbouring South Cambs spends nothing?

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  72. Steve Dee

    As an experienced Police Detective in Central London my biggest beef is when I go to Westminster City Council following a violent crime in the City to find that their cameras, which were installed to monitor high crime areas were being used for parking enforcement ( The operators informed me that this was a stipulation of the Council) Appalling misuse!

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