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 142.

    Try filming a police officer in a public place and see how happy he is about it

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    Trapwire in HD! Now they can add "How you wrinkle your nose" to your profile.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    Surely bar-coding everyone and tagging them from birth would offer the most security? Wouldn't it?

    Of course if you're against this then you obviously have something to hide, waffle waffle, blah, blah...

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    I wonder if the Government spent as much money on preventing crime, drug treatment programmes, rehabilitation, etc. as they do on surveillance whether it would be needed. HD camera in certain locations are fine, over use is oppressive. In the end, I doubt there are systems sufficient to prevent the misuse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    The crucial thing about all of this is can we trust the people who will have the information. Can we be sure that the information gathered will not be misused? I for one do not trust either the government to resist selling the information for commercial purposes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    SD or HD, the cameras are still able to pick out the identity of a a person. If the current regulations for SD, are stringent & considered sufficient, what is the difference with HD. Lets not lose sight (pardon the pun) of the fact that this only apllies to publically facing CCTV. Your neighbour, shop or other private institutions can spy on you and publish your images til their heart's content.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    If you think allowing more HD CCTV cameras in our society is in danger of turning us into a police state then you are dillusional. We are already in a police state you just haven't woken up to the fact yet and now its too late to do anything about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    If we are subject to CCTV, we should at least have access to whatever records are kept about us. Like medical records kept digitally, we should have the right to know who is watching us, and more importantly, know why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    #116 You found East Germany funny did you? I didn't. You've got an interesting idea of 'sheepish' too.... I wonder if you have the balls to try and cross the Berlin Wall. I wouldn't have risked the land mines, automated gun positions, attack dogs and risk of years inside if I survived a failed attempt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    For comparison, look at parking rules.
    When police ran it, you were able to talk to a cop who, in those days wasn`t rule bound, and helped the citizen by overlooking it.
    Jobsworths introduced, and "rules".
    Our County Council just admitted it takes £47 to process a £30 fine, and you ARE guilty! If that is the parking scenario the move to Fascism via cctv seems certain!

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    Look how hard it is when you get a person who has a real feature mask on with a real feature hair style and dressed in a suit doing a crime in public then escapes, sounds like our civil servants don't it lol

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    ".. soon,. they will also be on drones... watching to easy crimes like littering, to help stats.
    It must stop!"

    Unless the litter bug is carrying a placard bearing his name and address they will still have to be tracked down . Too costly, which is a pity. I wish all litter louts could be caught and birched

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    80. Pumper
    Surely it's only the criminals & the like who're against this?"

    This is a dangerous mindset: anyone who disagrees with X or Y must be a criminal. I haven't seen any problems with this idea so far, but to suppress all dissent by insinuation is dangerous. It leads to counter-productive laws an "cures worse than the illness". It wins by force, not reason.

    We need to drop this mindset.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    If you're doing nothing wrong what's there to worry about? Many feel assured by it. CCTV does catch criminals, and must deter at least some, so we may as well have the best.

    What hyperbole from Aposslex: "having every moment of one's life recorded" "the negative impact is far greater" + nice contradiction with Perpetual Sigh: "CCTV helps prevent crime " VS "it does nothing to 'fight crime'."

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    CCTV doesn't prevent crime it just records it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    Road incident 100% recorded by CCTV & fault entirely of other party, ended up in A & E.

    Plod knowing perfect evidence existed still could not be bothered to prosecute the criminal endangering lives of others on the road.

    You could have 3D cameras but they would still be as useless as the police & their apathy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    then your IT team need to up their skills as we have the ability to "instruct" our software to identify words or phrases to capture those emails or internet sites that are deemed "offensive or likely to cause offence" by the board.

    Person of interest!
    Nuff Said

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    I have in the past taken CDs of travellers stealing diesel from lorries in our yard to the Police. The pictures were perfect and there was a very good mugshot from one of the thieves/travellers, but nothing was done. Apparently there was insufficient evidence.

    It makes you wonder

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    If it was not for cameras like these those london rioters who mugged that student for his rucksack would have never have been caught, they may not stop crime as it happens but can PREVENT further crimes commited by the people caught!, that is their value.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    ..@105. Pete.."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."
    I agree. The other night a motorist (obviously knowing where the speed cameras are), overtook us at 20 mph faster than both us and the speed limit (40), crossing a double white line in the process.


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