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 182.

    Only in this country can we see having better quality cameras to catch criminals as a bad thing!"

    There are a number of arguments to that. One of those being is that CCTV displaces crime to areas with no CCTV.

    In principle I am for CCTV but beleive this is Politicians wanting more and more control of our lives and fear the 'creep' towards a Totalitarian/Authoritarian State.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    eConundrum @ 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."

    For the time being, anyway. Never heard of "creep"? How long before they are in our homes to "protect" us? Trust no-one!

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    CCTV just doesn't seem to reduce crime. Not since the hoodie was invented anyway.

    If you ask me (and I'll pretend you did) things started to get worse when concepts such as 'fairness' and 'rights' began to take priority over things like 'respect' and 'courtesy'.

    There is of course nothing intrinsically bad about 'fairness' and 'rights' but we seem to have muddled the implementation of them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    I agree with the introduction of new technology to assist in identifying criminals but, some of the worst offenders in our society look so normal. They wear pin stripped suits, drive expensive foreign cars from their plush pads in the suburbs to work in the city of London where they commit fraud, corruption, bribery, interest rate rigging, drug cartel money laundering etc and get away with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
    thats what i'd like to know.
    the 'the innocent have nothing to fear' brigade are fools, anyone putting forward this argument needs to study their history.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    @168.The_Squirrel, not to mention being rudley awakened at 4am in the summer when the sun stars to rise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    From Bentham's Panopticon prison design to the ubiquitous CCTV camera, internalised norms ( behaviours to which the vast majority of people would adhere) is replaced by the simple fear of being caught. This surely cannot be the basis of a healthy consensual democracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    Don't have a problem with it. Nothing to hide, nothing to fear.
    Can you post the contents of your last bank statement for us all to share ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    I'd like to see the output of public-facing cameras made subject to instantaneous FOI requests. That is, it should be possible for the public to query them over the web to see their current view and perhaps recent (1-24 hours) history. Such a law would go some way to deflate 'police state' anxiety, as the state would have no more surveillance power than we would have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    If cctv at 29 megapixels now exceeds professional photographer standards, how come all the ones on crimewatch are so bad?

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    I can see before long that without CCTV covering your property your home insurance will be raised. We are captured on camera probably everyday of our lives and who really can say they have suffered because of it, get a grip, why worry all your life when there are bigger problems to solve.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    Shaunie Babes

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

    The one outside the Cameron household seems ok about it . If one should object ,just tell them that if they are doing nothing wrong they have nothing to fear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    I honestly don't see the problem with CCTV. If having them everywhere helps solve even one murder or solve one abduction it's worth it. Camera's are in public places and anything you would have a problem with others seeing is something you shouldnt be doing and those located in private areas are again there to keep people from doing what they shouldn't. Private homes should be the only exception.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    Cctv is great for catching criminals, excellent for the secret service to monitor peoples movements with facial recognition. Draw up all the safe guards you like. Then explain how and why a FBI officer had over a million iPad and iPhone codes on his lap top?
    It's bound to get misused.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    @162 - that's a different issue. For example, if you were to walk around your own home naked and a child outside happened to look through your window, you could face an indecent exposure charge. In addition, aside from curtains helping block out draughts, they also stop would-be burglars from checking out your valuables. Bit of common sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    I think this was a myth perpetuated by the Cold War where technology was such that were could hear and see everything perfectly. Then TV and films perpetuated the myth. In reality good picures are really only obtained where the subject is targeted by professionals using the latest equipment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    @ 140.GravityBeckons
    3 Minutes ago
    "Surely bar-coding everyone and tagging them from birth would offer the most security? Wouldn't it?"

    Scary, but that is more or less what some arrogant ruling elite want for us all. They are already discussing behind closed doors the possibility of microchipping us while we work for certain Companies.

    Corporate ownership of us all creeps onwards.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    Only in this country can we see having better quality cameras to catch criminals as a bad thing!

    I don't care if my face appears on them if it helps catch someone.

  • Comment number 164.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    If you have nothing to hide what's your problem, the only people who don't want this are people who are trying to hide something, its got absolutely nothing to do with human rights
    I do have something to hide - things that I can't do freely in public but are not a problem when none is watching: poking my nose, scratching my behind etc etc.


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