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 202.

    @ 18
    "Do i care if i'm watched by 500 CCTV cameras daily. No, my face will be ignored as i'm not doing anything wrong"

    And, presumably, if a crime is committed at 'A' and I wanted to demonstrate to anyone that I was at 'B' at the time, video evidence of that would be quite handy to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    There have been assaults and rapes on a particular footbridge in my town over the past few years and I have no idea why they haven't put one up, yet they have 3 by the local shops! I'd rather they catch a rapist or a mugger than a 'youth' guilty of petty crimes like grafitti!

    I'm all for CCTV, I only notice them if I'm walking alone at night and feel safer if they're there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    I'm not a theif.
    I'm not a civil rights activist.
    I'm not a child abducter.
    I'm not a violent thug.
    You can have my image as many times as you want.
    If you invading my civil rights helps to protect innocent citizens then go ahead.
    There has to be a balance but we definately need more protection and security.
    All the university educated, dogooders wont be there when the criminals attack my family

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

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

    What an odd statement to make.

    Victims of crime wants the perpetrators of those crimes to face justice and if the police can cross-reference their investigations with clearer recorded visual information, then surely that's a good thing?

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    Shaunie Babes

    "Can you post the contents of your last bank statement for us all to share ?"

    Not necessary, the govt can have access to anyones banking via Customs and revenue whether they have done wrong or not

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    @186 - in this age of mobile techology, how do you know one of your neighbours, a colleague, a family member or a complete stranger isn't recording you? Don't fear the cameras you're aware of, fear the ones you aren't! Sleep tight!

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    I don't seee what people's problem with this is. If you're doing something dodgy in front of a camera which is usually in a very public place that will get you in trouble then you shouldn't be doing it at all. These cameras help catch criminals and anyone opposing them is either a conspiracy theorist, a criminal in some way or just plain paranoid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    Why are the British so obsessed with surveillance?

    There is much much less surveillance in France/Belgium/NL. And Germany has one of the toughest privacy laws.
    And yet.... all these countries are safe or even safer then the UK.


    Get rid of CCTV, invest in real people!

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    @ 174.Sean
    Fantastic idea! Although, I still would worry about my personal privacy considering I live in a city. As long as my pictures can be removed from databases as quickly as personal data can now be deleted then I don't see a problem. We would also need data protection laws to encompass pictures and video (not sure if they do already).

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    You really should stop quoting big brother watch they are a rather nutty organisation. They are perfectly happy with big brother when its corporations doing it.
    I have never understood why people expect privacy in public places. Probably the same people who are happy with phone tapping and invading privacy. Filming another person in public has never been a crime and should never be a crime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    Isn't the issue access to footage rather than the act of being filmed. If the cameras are monitored by official bodies in a transparent way which is not too intrusive then I have no problems with this. If there was broader coverage crimes would be much easier to solve. The missing girl in Wales could be found much more easily if there was adequate coverage in her area.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    @ In Gold I Trust
    "If cctv at 29 megapixels now exceeds professional photographer standards, how come all the ones on crimewatch are so bad?"

    In practice there's only a tiny number of surveillance cameras in use in the UK, above 3 Megapixel resolution (ish).

    The underlying reason why so many CCTV images are poor, is lack of knowledge by installers and customers; plus a few other factors ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    If we had more CCTV cameras we'd know where April Jones is

    total CCTV coverage would eliminate crime

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    No guilt, then no problem. I'm sure that some of the anti camera brigade support Speed camera's therefore the argument is the same they both deter wrongdoers, so if you want to be mugged or assaulted go somewhere where the camera's are not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    It's quite simple, really.

    Don't break the law.

    Criminals should be the only people who have a problem with CCTV!

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    I don't think there is a case to say it violates human rights. All it is is better picture quality. In public places for example, if we are being watched on CCTV anyway why not make it HD? There is hardly any impact on our privacy but it could potentially make a huge difference in criminal cases.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.


    The camera's themselves are not the problem,

    I lead a relatively boring life, I cannot for any reason see why anyone would be interested in watching me, but that is not really the point. I'm uncomfortable being watched, monitored and recorded by people I have never met and have very little inclination to trust.

    Who watches the watchers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    Nearly everyone with a mobile phone has a camera attached. We are all walking CCTV cameras. How many criminals have been arrested after posting their own footage of themselves. How many TV shows are based on CCTV footage? What looks more like a police state CCTV or a policeman on every street corner?

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    This is all about selling a multi Billion pound (from our Taxes) illusion of more safety and freedom and what we actually get is less of both.

    I'm always surprised how easily some are willing to give away their money, power and freedoms to others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    Heres the thing, they do help solve crime, but not stop it. That in my veiw can only be done by coppers on the beat. We are so used to them now no one takes any notice.


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