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 62.

    Technology will always be abused by someone, and this HD CCTV + facial recognition has abuse written all over it.

    If it is used purely for serious crime then fine. However, if it is used for parking tickets and other such minor offences, or for tracking non-harmful people then lets ditch it. The law is not perfect and CCTV is not the answer for improved policing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Driving to the station I crossed an arbitrary white line painted out into the carriageway (presumably to part buses from cars at peak hours), well the road was empty. I got an £80 fine in the post, a lot to pay for a small black and white photo!
    They also got me for letting my passenger out at the station, again on camera!
    Big Brother's already out there, especially if you have a licence number

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    there should be audio CCTV in every governmental room

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    @42 I work in IT for a large organisation, whilst yes we could technically sit and read our way through our 10,000 users emails and online activity, do you actually think we would have the time or need to do this? If your organisation hires enough IT staff to actually do this, then they have more problems than just spying on workstations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Let's get one thing clear CCTV does not prevent crime apart from in car parks. There are government reports that prove this. CCTV records crime and is being used to track individuals in cars and and on foot. If not already but very soon the police will be able to live track you as an individual, which is something the Chinese government can only wish it had.

  • Comment number 57.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    indeed who will guard the guards

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Why the links? This article reads like an advertorial.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    "Sorry mate, you can’t come in, you’re barred, that covers all our and partners stores."

    "Eh? How never been here or in any of you other stores before?"

    "Sorry, HDCCTV picked up your face in the car park, computer says NO."

    Facial recognition, like finger printing and DNA is not 100% accurate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    An article based on fact rather than spin, might have provided a more useful contribution to the debate on using CCTV to help address the challenges of crime reduction.

    The degree to which CCTV is both appropriate and effective is not linked to the resolution of a camera.

    It's the correct combination of optimised technology and techniques, appropriately used, which really matters the most.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Where is the information on the amount of crime these cameras have prevented and/or helped to solve vs the cost. Could these figures be achieved in a less intrusive way.

    Although I agree CCTV is harmless if you are within the law, I see it as another example of the steady erosion of civil liberties. We begin to expect and accept that we are being watched, tracked, and profiled. That is dangerous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    As a slight further improvement, perhaps the 1080p quality cameras could keep the HDCCTV name and the 29MP camera could be known as Super HD (SHDCCTV), maybe becoming extra super when we get to gigapixel (XSHDCCTV). Maybe some letters are require to describe the frame rate too, then you could have a really catchy name HFPSXSHDCCTV

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Just what human rights would that be then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    I really don't see the issue with CCTV - they are only used in public places so whatever you are doing can be watched by anybody already. Also having seen some of the poor quality/grainy CCTV images in the press or on the TV used in appeals for help I am all for an improvement in quality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    The ability to see the crime happening in a higher quality does not prevent it from happening. No matter what the surveillance, crime will always be committed. A more visible and active deterrent is needed to prevent crimes. More Bobbies on the beat would be a good place to start.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    To all the people welcoming more cameras and who have "nothing to hide": who decides what is right and wrong and what someone might want to hide? The government? The police? Do you completely trust them 100%?

    Technology like this places a huge amount new powers in the hands of government. To do so without a discussion of the dangers associated with this is likely to prompty a backlash.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I wonder if sceptical people would change their minds if they ever became victims of a savage street crime. I think they probably would. If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to lose but everything to gain from this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    As long as cameras are simply recording what's going on in a public place I really can't see the difference between that and having 25 bobbies on the beat with photographic memories.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Will it help fight undercover reporters using fake identities?
    Am sure there is a law not to use fake identities unless you have a licence to do so like the police do.


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