High-def CCTV cameras risk backlash, warns UK watchdog

Avigilon CCTV camera The latest cameras can be fitted with professional SLR camera lenses to improve images taken

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High-definition closed-circuit television (CCTV) risks sparking a public backlash, according to the UK government's surveillance commissioner.

Andrew Rennison told the Independent newspaper that "the technology has overtaken our ability to regulate it".

Surveillance cams now offer up to 29 megapixels, surpassing many cameras used by professional photographers.

Manufacturer's figures suggest there will be 129,299 HD CCTV cameras in the UK by the end of 2012.

The HDCCTV Alliance has predicted that number would rise to over 3.7 million by 2016.

A shift from the use of analogue to digital equipment is also helping drive the quality of the images the cameras capture.

Defenders of the technology note that it helps discourage crime and has helped law enforcement officers identify offenders.

An earlier report by the Integrated CCTV news site said that evidence gathered by surveillance cameras had helped secure some of the convictions that followed 2011's London riots.

'Face in a crowd'

The UK government has asked Mr Rennison to draw up a code of conduct for CCTV use in England and Wales. He is due to present a report to Parliament in April. His interview suggests he will take a tough line.

"It is the Big Brother scenario playing out large," he told the Independent.

"It's the ability to pick out your face in a crowd from a camera which is probably half a mile away."

CCTV images from London during 2011 riots CCTV images helped police arrest suspects after 2011's riots

He also flagged that research was being carried out to pair the technology with facial recognition software to run captured images against databases of known offenders.

Manufacturers are using a range of techniques to improve image quality.

For example Bosch's top-end Dinion camera records images using the HDR (high dynamic range) dual-exposure process to capture more detail in an image's shadows.

It allows owners to save up to 30 frames per second in 1080p quality video and uses an infrared filter to improve its performance at night.

By contrast Avigilon's top-of-the-range camera only takes two images per second at full resolution but produces 29MP photos.

It can be fitted with Canon's SLR (single-lens reflex) camera lenses to extend its range.

Crime prevention

Mr Rennison said that he intended to consult lawyers to discuss whether the UK's use of HD CCTV cameras meant there had been a breach of European human rights legislation.

But the Local Government Association, which represents councils in England and Wales, highlighted the technology's benefits.

"Whether it's tracking down a thug who brutally mugged an old lady, a vandal who trashed a war memorial or searching for a missing child, CCTV plays a crucial role in tackling crime and making people safer," said Mehboob Khan, chairman of the association's Safer and Stronger Communities Board.

"Town halls don't install cameras on a whim. They consult with residents, businesses and police on whether CCTV is appropriate in an area.

Bosch Dinion HD 1080p HDR camera Bosch's camera uses software to continually adjust its settings to ensure the highest-quality image

"In many instances councils are responding to requests from these groups. As well as serious crimes like burglary, it has also proven effective in reducing antisocial behaviour on our streets, a key factor in whether people feel safe and comfortable in their communities."

Campaign group Big Brother Watch reported in February that the UK local councils had spent £515m over the previous four years on CCTV operations and controlled at least 51,600 standard and high definition cameras.

It welcomed Mr Rennison's intervention but warned that his report might still prove ineffective.

"The Home Office has undermined the commissioner from the start by giving him absolutely no powers to act when he views that wrongdoing may have occurred," it said in a statement.

"Proper regulation of CCTV needs someone to have the power to inspect cameras and punish those breaking the law. If the Home Office is serious about this issue then the surveillance camera commissioner needs proper powers to protect our privacy."

A statement from the Home Office said Mr Rennison would develop a new code of practice to "empower the public to shine a light on those who operate camera systems in public places, challenging them to show the use of these systems is justified, proportionate and effective".

International demand

The UK is far from being the only country to utilise the technlogy.

A study by RNCOS suggests the global CCTV market will be worth about $23.5bn (£14bn) a year by the end of 2014.

It said that Asia and the Middle East would soon account for about one quarter of that market, thanks in large part to growing demand for the products in India and China.

It added that the adoption of internet-connected cameras meant that more footage was being stored off-site for longer periods of time, and that gigapixel camera technology would mean even higher quality images in the future.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    I would worry more about the Spy on your computer at work watching your emails and what your doing online than CCTV cameras put up to keep you safe on the streets! oh and the police use the CCTV operators to direct the police towards the criminals in the first place once a crime has been committed or in process of!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    How about replacing cameras with bobbies on the beat ? That would be far more effective at fighting crime.

    The only problem is, the Tories are making 16,000 police officers redundant, whilst wasting 32bn on an HS2 link that NOBODY wants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Dear Homeowner

    We will shortly be visiting your house to install HD CCTV in each of your rooms.

    Please rest assured this is purely for monitoring purposes and if you have nothing to hide, then you need not worry. Indeed, this is for your own comfort and convenience.

    You need take no further action.

    Yours sincerely

    HM Government

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    CCTV is there as a tool and in cases will prevent and or will be purely for evidence capture that the police and authorities can use to ensure justice can be served.

    The responsible users of the kit will ensure your data is kept safely, however issues arise as there are companies out to make a quick buck that then tarnish the reputation of the decent operators

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Yes, it's a little big brother, however whenever someone is the victim of crime the 1st question usually is "Oh, I hope that was caught on CCTV"

    You cannot have it both ways!

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    9.artyfactuk 'Doing anything wrong' doesn't necessarily mean doing something illegal. It could mean doing something the Govt doesnt agree with".
    Agreed. In the future this might include smoking around kids or eating 'unhealthy' food. And there has to be a line: would we accept State surveillance of our homes even if it cut child abuse and domestic violence?

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    If you are a victim of crime you are thankful that it was caught on camera. I don't buy this slippery-slope human rights nonsense. I go about my life and don't care that I'm caught on film. It also acts as a deterrent. @22 has got it right. They are in public places. I would have a serious problem with a spy cam in my living room but there isn't going to be one.

  • Comment number 35.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    I hate to play the devil's advocate, but I can see why council's prefer this method, they have tax payers demanding lower tax, whilst also demanding better policing, and often the cheapest solution is a new camera. I also do agree that I do nothing wrong or embarrassing, so don't mind being watched and would be angry if I was a victim of a crime and there wasn't CCTV to capture it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    When children are being abducted and other terrible crimes are committed, how can anybody oppose something which could offer such valuable intelligence?!!

    I say more cameras and surveillance the better! only people with something to hide will oppose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    I'd rather see more police back on the beat, than millions spent on this "Upgrade"

    Prevention is better than cure, as they say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    My wife was attack in the street the little bit of dirt that attack her crossed a road where there are 2 CCTV's not a thing was recorded. Two weeks later one of 2 CCTV's give me a parking ticket. To say "Town halls don't install cameras on a whim." is correct they are to rise money.If they are working for crime prevention how come they sell so much film to TV shows that show us how bad it is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    The thing that has always annoyed me about CCTV is that the quality isn't usually high enough to indentify people clearly. These new cameras will put an end to that and make existing CCTV more effective by a rolling replacement of old cameras with HDCCTV.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    The only people against this are the ones who want to hide while they commit their crimes. If you do nothing wrong, then the system will not care about you.

    Man up people, these things should be on every street. Just think, little April would be found by now if these were all across the country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    All you precious people so worried about being filmed on CCTV just in case your godly images are passed onto someone else, eventually leading to ripping a tear in the fabric of the universe and sucking everything into it... you are the exact same people who will then complain when you're assaulted in the street and there in no CCTV evidence because cameras weren't put up. Man up and stop whinging.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Conspiracy theorists will no doubt have a field day! It's the criminals I worry about, not the unseen camera operators or council officials. No matter what serious crimes or apparently petty misdermeanours are being committed, if they warrant investigation the collection of evidence is paramount. Courts decide what sanctions to impose on offenders if they are convicted, so justice can be improved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    nicjp - did either the tv company or the council ask your permission to use the footage? if not you have both bang to rights on privacy and personally I would sue them both! however that detracts - there ARE policies in place to secure the data and the misuse can be used against an individual or company/organisation to bring them to justice - seek legal advice and get a hold of your evidence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    It all comes down to wether or not you trust the government to handle this technology. after the rail contract debacle well....???

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Everyone breaks some law almost every day, it is inevitable when each government creates 1000s of new laws during their time in office (one Bill may add over 100 rules to the law books). So make sure you behave and don't protest about anything without permission.

    A feature of the newer HD cameras is their increasing reliance on the internet - no problem there, what could possibly go wrong ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    I find the whole CCTV and Big Brother arguments (this is to include Police forces using and applying for the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) smacks of "you're all guilty until you're proven innocent".


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