privacy and Security
not Seeing the Crime
for the Cameras?
In TErMS OF sales, remote surveil- lance camera systems—com- monly known as closed-circuit elevision (CCTV)—are a huge success story. Billons of dollars
are spent on CCTV schemes by govern-
ments in developed countries each year,
and sales to commercial companies and
home users have been increasing, too.
CCTV can be used for many purposes—
ranging from monitoring traffic flows on
highways, to allowing visitors in zoos to
observe newborn animals during their
first few days without disturbing them.
The vast majority of CCTV purchases are
made with the aim of improving safety
and security. The London Underground
was the first public transport operator
to install cameras on station platforms,
so train drivers could check doors were
clear before closing them. CCTV has
come a long way since then: last sum-
mer, the technology writer Cory Doc-
torow noticed that a single London bus
now has 16 cameras on it (see Figure 1).
The advance from analog to digital tech-
nology had a major impact on CCTV:
cameras are much smaller and cheaper,
video is often transmitted wirelessly,
and recordings are stored on hard disks,
rather than tapes. Integration with other
digital technologies offers further possi-
bilities: image processing makes it pos-
sible to recognize automobile license
plates automatically and match them
against databases to check if a vehicle
has been reported as stolen, or is unin-
sured. Advances in hardware—such as
high-definition cameras—and image
processing—such as the ability to pro-
cess face and iris information from im-
ages taken at a distance, not detecting
sales figures and
ubiquity of cameras
suggest that surely
must be effective.
unattended objects—will enable a wide
range of possible technology solutions
(imagine the whole industry salivating).
The burgeoning sales figures and
ubiquity of cameras suggest that sure-
ly CCTV technology must be effective.
The U.K. government has invested
heavily in CCTV over the past 15 years,
making it the country with the highest
CCTV camera-to-person ratio on earth
(Greater London alone has one cam-
era for every six citizens). A key driver
for adoption was that local authorities
seeking to combat crime could obtain
government funds to purchase CCTV.
In the public debate, this policy has
been justified mainly with two argu-
ments: “the public wants it,” and “surely
it’s obvious that it works.” As evidence
for the latter, policymakers often point
to high-profile (and often highly emo-
tionally charged) cases:
In 1993, CCTV images from a shop- ˲
ping mall camera showed police in-
vestigators that the murdered toddler
James Bulger had been abducted by
two teenagers, who were then appre-
hended and convicted.