London notably has reported a 71% increase in CCTV coverage
Nationally from 2012 - 2015, there has been a decrease in the money spent on the
installation, monitoring and maintenance of CCTV compared to the period 2009-2012

The UK has often been referred to as the world’s most watched country in terms of the scale of CCTV surveillance. But a new report claims that UK local authorities have reduced spending on the installation, maintenance and monitoring of public space CCTV systems, while the number of cameras being used is also down.

The report from privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch shows that nationally, between 2012 and 2015, there has been a decrease in the money spent on the installation, monitoring and maintenance of CCTV compared to the period 2009-2012, with some parts of the country abandoning their systems entirely. But other areas, notably London, have reported a 71% increase in CCTV coverage.

Key findings of the report include:

  • Local authorities control at least 45,284 cameras, a reduction of 12.5% since 2012;
  • At least £277 million has been spent on the installation, monitoring and maintenance of these systems, a drop of 46% compared to the period 2009-2012;
  • £38 million was spent on the installation of systems, a decrease of 57% from 2009-2012;
  • £140 million was spent on the maintenance of cameras, down 42% since the period ending 2012;
  • £99 million was spent on the salaries of CCTV operators, a drop of 47% compared to the previous period.

London reports increase in CCTV coverage

But these figures do not paint the whole picture. London authorities reported a 72% increase in the number of cameras they operate from 8,105 to 13,924, and they control almost a third of the UK’s cameras and spend 22% of the total UK expenditure. Wales, meanwhile, has the highest average spend at £9,000 per camera, while London has the lowest at £4,310 per camera.

New, smarter surveillance technologies

Despite the reductions in cameras and expenditure, Big Bother Watch says we should not assume from these figures that CCTV is on the wane. New, smarter technologies – including facial biometrics, 3D scanning, and other more accurate types of surveillance technology – are just around the corner, while the migration from analogue to digital will accelerate.

“Whilst we are encouraged by some of these results, we acknowledge that they may merely be a lull before the storm of new surveillance technology [appearing] on our streets,” says the report. “In light of that, we propose policy recommendations which should be considered by local authorities before the pressure to update their systems becomes too great to ignore.”

Big Brother Watch report recommendations are:

  • Any improvement of systems such as smart technology, biometrics or linking systems must consider the increased risk to citizens’ privacy
  • Local authorities should regularly report the number of crimes detected, investigated and solved by each camera to justify its continued use
  • There should be a single point of contact to oversee CCTV use and to resolve complaints. Currently, oversight is divided between the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Surveillance Camera Commissioner – this is confusing for the general public.
  • A single, enforceable code of practice which applies to all CCTV systems should be produced.

In response to the cuts in CCTV budgets, the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) is producing a report with an evidence base to show best practice in the use of CCTV
Report says the reductions in spending and number of cameras should be seen
in the context of the financial pressures on local authorities during this period

Big Brother Watch says the reductions in spending and number of cameras should be seen in the context of the financial pressures on local authorities during this period. “Whilst we are pleased to see a reduction in spending on CCTV, we have to understand that the rationale behind the figures is not ideological. Local authorities have not suddenly woken up to privacy and acknowledged the intrusion CCTV causes.

“We also acknowledge the changes to regulation since the Protection of Freedoms Act in 2012, and the subsequent codes of practice for CCTV from the Surveillance Camera Commissioner and the Information Commissioner’s Office."

Big Brother watch advocates assessing CCTV best practices

The privacy group says it is not against CCTV per se – it can be beneficial when in the right place and used effectively. But apart from the benefit it has in investigating car crime, the general benefits of CCTV have not been fully assessed.

Rather than always installing permanent cameras, it advocates the use of re-deployable ones in problem areas for a limited time. “The concept of targeted use in an area where crime has been proven to be rife could be seen to be more beneficial from a maintenance, cost and privacy perspective, than an expensive fixed camera [watching] everyone going about their day to day business.”

Big Brother Watch also suggests that a register of cameras across the UK would help to establish where cameras are located, how effective they are and how intrusive they can be.

Minimising privacy concerns without compromising security

New technology such as HD cameras, smart cities, sound and gait recognition and so-called tag and track systems “will change how cameras are used and the threat they pose to privacy. Local authorities must begin to consider how they can minimise privacy concerns before they start trying to deploy these methods on our streets.”

“Each recommendation in this report,” says Surveillance Camera Commissioner Tony Porter, “if adopted, would serve to improve the quality of public surveillance, increase accountability and transparency to our citizens and help to drive up standards at every level.”

Police concerns

In response to the cuts in CCTV budgets, the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) is producing a report, due for publication in April, with an evidence base to show best practice in the use of CCTV. “This will cover from the prevention aspects of making people safe using monitored CCTV, to the investigative value that CCTV plays in the majority of police investigations where crime has taken place in the public space,” an NPCC spokesperson told SourceSecurity.com.

“The report will also detail the work being done to ensure that the use of CCTV is proportionate, and that partners and the police are professionally accredited in their use of CCTV and how it becomes evidence in court cases. The report will identify some examples of good practice but aims, in the long term, to show clearly the percentage of crimes in which CCTV has formed a significant part of the investigation.

“Early data collated so far shows how vital CCTV is and [demonstrates] the need to maintain funding where possible in support of existing CCTV systems.”

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Ron Alalouff Contributing Editor, SourceSecurity.com

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