Jago Russell (Policy Officer, Liberty) gives expert video advice on: What is CCTV?; What is CCTV used for?; Is CCTV effective in reducing crime? and more...
What is CCTV?
CCTV stands for closed circuit television. People that live in big cities, like London for example, will be very familiar with these things. We have implanted in the U.K. about 20 percent of the world's CCTV cameras. So, they are a common feature. I think most people know what they are. You get them in tubes, you get them on buses, trains, in the street, and you get them in banks. They are all over the place.
What is CCTV used for?
The government has made a lot of claims about how useful CCTV cameras are. Liberty, for example, would accept some of these and we'd accept that CCTV cameras can be useful in detecting crimes or solving a crime that's already occurred. But the government places most emphasis on the crime prevention benefits of CCTV, and we think that those are quite probably overplayed. I think about 78 percent of the governments crime prevention budget was spent on CCTV cameras during the 1990's, so this is obviously a major reason that the government is so into the idea of CCTV.
Is CCTV effective in reducing crime?
Liberty isn't convinced that CCTV camera is effective in reducing crime. In fact, there's no evidence to really back that up. Given that, it's really surprising that such huge amounts of money are spent on CCTV cameras for crime prevention purposes. For example, about 500 million pounds have been spent on CCTV cameras in the last ten years, which is a huge amount of money on something where there's no proof that it has actually been effective. We suggest to spend that money on proven deterrents, like more bobbies on the beat and very simple things like that.
Can you pass through a city without being caught on CCTV?
In some countries around the world, I'm sure it would be possible to pass through a city without being caught on CCTV. Or, you know, not being caught very often. Now, it's very different in the United Kingdom. We have 20% of the world's CCTV cameras and people in London, for example, can be caught on CCTV camera hundreds of times a day. So I would say it would be incredibly difficult to pass through a city in the UK without being caught on CCTV. In fact, nowadays, you could well be told off by a CCTV camera as well as just caught on one. This new breed of CCTV cameras actually tells the public what it should and shouldn't do as they pass by. So, "Pick up that piece of litter." Or things like that.
Why is Britain the CCTV capital of the world?
I'm not sure I understand really why the UK is the CCTV capital of the world. I think, perhaps, it could be put down to government naïveté and trust in the claims by CCTV manufacturers and others about the great benefits of CCTV. I mean, they seem very willing to plant huge amounts of public money into CCTV and to invest in the latest CCTV technologies, so talking cameras, or cameras which can identify people's facial features, or identify kind of suspicious patterns of movement. But actually, I think that the government should be standing back and saying, "Is this stuff really going to work?" It looks good, it looks like we're taking crime seriously, but is it actually making us any safer?" And perhaps governments elsewhere in the world are better at asking those questions.
Does Britain have too many CCTV cameras?
Given that the crime prevention benefits of CCTV camera have not been proved, I think it's very safe to say that there is a disproportionate number of CCTV cameras on our streets. That is not to say that there are no uses for CCTV cameras. You have to stop and ask yourself why most countries in the world are making due with far fewer CCTV cameras than we have in the United Kingdom. I think absolutely there is a disproportionate reliance on CCTV in the United Kingdom.
What are the other forms of legal surveillance?
CCTV is just one of many forms of legal surveillance in the United Kingdom. Informational surveillance, mass information databases like the DNA database or the ID cards, register those kinds of things. They are also a form of surveillance. Another form of surveillance is targeted surveillance, which you will see on crime films; peoples telephones being intercepted or you know phones are tapped, or people having bugs placed in their room. That's all legal within the United Kingdom and it's regulated by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and actually happens a fair amount. In about a 50 month period in 2006 to 2007, the Home Secretary authorized over 2000 telephone taps. These are the forms of surveillance going on as well.
Can I gain access to CCTV footage of myself?
The legal position as regards the ability of a person to claim access to CCTV footage of themselves is very uncertain. The reason for that is that a case in the United Kingdom established that a lot of CCTV footage isn't covered by the data protection act. So while under the data protection act you would normally have access to your personal information, this case has suggested that a lot of CCTV footage shouldn't be treated as personal information for those purposes. So, unless the CCTV was specifically targeted at you; the purpose that it was there was to catch you and identify you as a person, then it's very possible that you won't have any of the protection of the data protection act.