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
    +7

    Comment number 122.

    The UK has more CCTV cameras per person than anywhere else, yet crime rates are little different from other countries in Western Europe.

    Clearly they don't 'prevent' or 'solve' crime, I'd argue why not ban them altogether, it's worse than 'telescreens' in Orwells 1984 - at least you knew where the camera was!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 121.

    When will the authorities realise that CCTV only works after the fact in that it helps to apprehend criminals after a crime has occurred. To prevent crime, you need more police, not cameras. Oops ... they've just had their numbers reduced haven't they?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 120.

    @ Aposslex, you don’t say what you think the negatives that out way the positives are, which makes your point meaningless. Also we aren’t talking about every moment of your life being recorded as these cameras are only found in public places. Anything you do in public is not private by definition.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 119.

    The UK has the highest per capita number of CCTV cameras we are 1% of the worlds population with 30% its CCTV cameras. The debate should be not how good but for what purpose they are being used. I suspect most are useful to catch robbers but many Council ones are there to watch people e.g Coventry you are observed dropping litter and spoken to from a remote office but what record is kept

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 118.

    "Town halls don't install cameras on a whim. "

    Quite right - they do it on half a whim and without and real consultation.
    We know cameras help fight crime but so many and so powerful - its utterly over the top and an abuse of public money. Soon.. soon,. they will also be on drones... watching to easy crimes like littering, to help stats.
    It must stop!

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 117.

    @88: "More pictures, more recordings, but no one to look at them or even dig back in the recordings." — Precisely my concern: that the owners/ operators only bother diligently digging back in the recordings when it concerns their own personal or corporate interests. When they think there are risks/ expenses for them from being involved, the relevant recordings sometimes mysteriously disappear!

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 116.

    Oh how we laughed at the East Germans sheepishly tolerating a government that snooped on every aspect of their lives, recording their phone calls, reading their letters and photgraphing and recording their every move and utterance. Still at least we don't accompany all that with detention without trial, secret courts and the thought police.

  • rate this
    +85

    Comment number 115.

    So all this monitoring is "for our own protection" eh? I wonder how many despots have used that one.

    CCTV can only catch someone after the event and does not seem to act as a deterrent.

    I would rather not be mugged at all than have the 'satisfaction' of a later conviction. I would therefore prefer the money to be spent on more visible policing and making the justice system a genuine deterrent.

  • rate this
    +33

    Comment number 114.

    A country that can only feel safe by covering it in cameras is a country with real problems.
    What has England become? It was someone's dream but not mine.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 113.

    The fact that you call Andrew Rennison the "surveillance commissioner" might come as a shock to the six surveillance commissioners and the chief surveillance commissioner who have oversight of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. For the record, Rennisson is the surveillance camera commissioner, the first person to hold that post following the enactment of the Protection of Freedoms Act.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 112.

    The UK has the highest number of CCTV cameras in the world, there is one for every 5 citizens, We must not allow these types of HD camera’s on our street’s as we are sleep walking into becoming a police state, I am not suggesting that we do not use tech to make our society safe, as only persons doing wrong need worry, but this cannot be allowed to happen, so stop watching X-Factor and wake up

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 111.

    At least the BBC and ITV will have better quality pictures of people in sad and unfortunate places in their lives, whether its victims or offenders, or just society as a whole. I wonder how long it will be before Police Camera Action shows will be shown in HD. Thanks UK media, you are great!

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 110.

    We're in the unfortunate position of becoming a Big Brother state, and there's not actually a lot the public can do about it. We can be traced and tracked in so many ways already. I wonder where the line will be drawn. I passively accept virtually giving up my privacy when I use the internet, my phone and going out in public. I'll start kicking and punching when they introduce a human chip

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 109.

    I have to wonder whether the "if you're doing nothing wrong you've got nothing to fear" brigade have curtains on their windows.

  • Comment number 108.

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

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 107.

    I live near a train station that has 2 large CCTV cameras watching a back road where cars park, daily and I really do me on a daily basis cars have their windows smashed in on this street ! The CCTVs have not stopped this crime or caught anyone doing it ! They do not stop drunken fights on a friday night, they fine the person later, its money out of crime and nothing more !

  • rate this
    +31

    Comment number 106.

    In my town, thieves walked past 5 cameras with ladder and tools, climbed onto the Market roof,and broke through skylight, stealing thousands of pounds worth of goods.
    They were covered at every step by cameras.
    They calmly climbed down with their loot in sacks, then walked off, with the ladder, past the cameras.
    They were never caught.
    The Council`s remedy for the future?
    More cameras.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 105.

    I am in favour of better cameras . However ,since the proliferation of speed cameras, the police have lost interest in prosecuting lousy drivers. Much easier just to photo and fine. Every day I see bad , selfish and downright dangerous but under the speed limit driving and unroadworthy vehicles go unchallenged .Lets hope they do not adopt the same attitude to street crime.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 104.

    Anyone concerned about current CCTV should reassure themselves & watch crimewatch. The images of wanted killers and rapists are so blurred they're useless. Often you can't even work out ethnicity. Perhaps if you CAN recognise a face on HDCCTV then these cameras might actually help solve crime... the current ones don't.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 103.

    Whilst CCTV has assisted in a number of high profile cases I don't believe this is the primary purpose of the technology. Europe is in a mess and faced with popular revolts, our economy isn't looking good and state have lost control of the media thanks to the rise of the Internet.

    This is about controlling the ordinary public. It's about a state that's terrified the citizens will revolt.

 

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