Today Big Brother Watch released a report that looks at the number of surveillance cameras operated by local councils throughout the UK. The report reveals that the number of council run cameras has almost tripled in the last ten years. Over that same period repeated studies into the effectiveness of CCTV have shown that it is not an effective crime fighting measure, yet councils continue to expand their camera networks.
Key findings in the Big Brother Watch report include:
- Portsmouth and Nottinghamshire Councils are in control of the most CCTV cameras with 1,454 each
- Residents in the Outer Hebrides are the most watched people in the UK with 8.3 CCTV cameras controlled by the council for every 1000 people.
- Portsmouth has the second highest number of CCTV cameras per 1000 people with 7.8
- The council controlling the highest number of CCTV cameras in Scotland is Fife with 1350 cameras
- The council in Wales controlling the highest number of CCTV cameras is Swansea with 326 cameras
- The council controlling the highest number of CCTV cameras in Northern Ireland is Belfast with 400 cameras
- Wandsworth is the most watched borough in London with 1113 CCTV cameras, or 4.3 cameras for every 1000 residents.
One aspect of the report that will surprise many is the high level of surveillance in Scotland. Fife Council, with 1350 cameras, has the third highest number in the UK, and four of the six councils with the highest number of CCTV cameras per 1000 people are Scottish. A fortnight ago the Scottish government published a review of the effectiveness of CCTV and a strategic report that called for yet more money to be wasted to upgrade the surveillance camera network. Closer inspection of the Scottish review reveals that they did not include the most recent evaluation of CCTV, the Campbell Collaboration Report which found that "evaluations of CCTV schemes in city and town centers and public housing [...] did not have a significant effect on crime." The Campbell Collaboration Report was published in December 2008 and looked at 41 evaluations of CCTV - could its omission be evidence of the Scottish government sexing up a report? (See our previous blog story 'CCTV in Scotland: Broken Record')
Meanwhile the Home Office in Westminster has appointed an Interim CCTV Regulator and is gearing up to hard sell CCTV to the UK public. Faced with a mountain of evidence that shows CCTV does not live up to their claims, policy makers are set to: "Promote CCTV and its expansion by forming evidence based business cases" [see National CCTV Strategy recommendation 44]. What this means is changing the measure of success from analysis of crime figures to meaningless statistics like twiddles of the joystick or number of arrests. The recent arrest of a group of musicians in Staffordshire who were arrested by armed police and held overnight because a CCTV operator mistook their guitars for guns would for instance score as a positive use of CCTV under the new measure but a bad use of CCTV under the currently used measure.
Millions of pounds have been wasted on camera technology, money that should have been spent actually reducing crime - councils have traded our liberty for security and lost both. The standard response of "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" suggests that law abiding citizens do not deserve or need the right to privacy - surely they deserve it the most.
The full Big Brother Watch report can be downloaded from www.bigbrotherwatch.org.uk/cctvreport.pdf