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 302.

    Never have i read so much drivel from what can only be described as "nutters" who think they know about CCTV cameras. They do not invade privacy but serve the law abiding public, protecting them from the evils of criminality. The people that think they are invasive only say so because they want to commit a crime but do not want to be caught. There should another five million around the country

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    258.billbi - Of course I don't want my kids to be a victim of any crime at all! But I have a job and they have a life so I can't watch them 24/7. I was a victim of assault on more than one occasion when younger and would hope my kids would have a better chance than I did! I'm not going to live in a little bubble beleiving nothing bad can ever happen! Things do unfortunately :(

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    As if upgrading from SD to HD will change much. A mask in HD is still a mask and still an unidentifiable suspect.

    I also just had a quick search, and found that CCTV jamming equipment exists and is easily available, so what's to stop criminals using such equipment to render CCTV useless until the crime is committed?

  • rate this

    Comment number 299.

    Ooh, I know: maybe when we have ID cards, they could have cameras built in, so we can all snoop on each other all the time. That's got to be better than CCTV.

    I've always thought it'd be handy to have a camera in your skull so you could play back last night and find out what you did when you were drunk =)

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.

    HDCCTV on poles is a bit static.

    Search YouTube for occupyairspace and see what today's amateur technology can do. Search the BBC site for 'Manchester police drones', or search Google for 'tiny surveillance drones'.

    Today surveillance uses fixed CCTV. Soon it will be using insect-sized cameras that can fly in through an open door or window and go, unnoticed, wherever you can.

    Nothing to hide?

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    The only people who are against CCTV are those with something to hide - people who are likely to wish to break the law. If a person does nothing wrong they don't have to worry. The police should investigate those people who are against CCTV - to check that they don't have a criminal record.

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    No problems at all, just hope it also catches those people with their dogs fouling up streets [Ilfracombe is terrible] tho the council wants to build a second town [school,750 houses,businesses et] further away than the out of town supermarket to "regenerate" Ilf. The town itself has empty shops,flats,small businesses. THESE should be the priority. OH yes a Damian Hirst nude,pregnant woman tooYuk

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    Those against CCTV have probably never been beaten up or serious injured while out on the town.

    But the real problem is that CCTV has become an alternative to proper policing instead of an aid to it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    I can see some pro-CCTV comments falling back on the subject of the missing Welsh girl and how CCTV in their eyes might have prevented this crime.

    As abhorent as this abduction is, we cannot put CCTV everywhere and sadly, if someone is intent on committing crime, CCTV will displace crime elsewhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    If I get filmed doing something funny, do I get £250 from Harry Hill?

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.

    If they catch people criticising our multicultural regime in any way they will have served a useful purpose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    The big lie that the public have swallowed is that CCTV prevents crime. It gives you the opportunity to watch yourself being a victim of crime. Numerous studies have proven that whilst it sounds counter-intuitive, streetlighting and trees are more effective deterrents. Despite this we continue to pour money into a crime detection tool rather than investing in crime prevention tools.

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    I don`t have a problem with CCTV to capture criminals and criminal acts, however, as with the terrorism act, you end up with mission creep and the widening of its remit until it becomes anti-social and that`s where you need someone to oversee the use of these cameras with the power to regulate and prosecute their misuse. Who watches the watchers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    Why does the general British public need to be watched that much to make it safe?
    Why does the French/Belgian/Dutch/German/Spanish public not need to be watched so much to make it safe?

    What if the money was invested in real Police officers and their training instead?

    Something wrong here?

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    With the chilling events playing out in Wales right now I can't see why anyone would object to better cctv.

    Yes, of course, CCTV cameras in the middle of the Welsh countryside, out in fields, forests, down little narrow country lanes, even on mountainsides.

    Get real and stop buying into the emotional hype around a potentially avoidable incident.

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    I had a motorcycle stolen a couple of years ago which was caught on CCTV belonging to a private company let me have a copy. I suggested to the police that they could use London's CCTV network to track where the van had taken the bike but was told that it doesn't work like that, the cameras would only 'ping' if the van had failed to pay the congestion charge or any other form of revenue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    When my boyfriend was assaulted in the street a couple of years ago there was CCTV footage but it wasn't of a high enough quality to make out their faces. If we're going to have cameras I want them to be HD auto focusing ones.

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    Got nothing to hide so don't care if they are watching me... No, it may not stop some criminals committing crime, but it may lead to more convictions which could stop further crime.

    People that think the faceless person controlling the camera is focusing on them all the time, I have some bad news. You just ain't important enough or interesting enough for anyone to want to do that. Sorry...

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    Maybe a CCTV camera in every vehicle({and it's boot) might reduce crime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    A word of caution for the overly smug proponents of the Orwellian mantra "if you've nothing to hide-you've got nothing to worry about"
    You are thinking only of the present. Look at how our rights have been trampled on by the previous two governments in the name of fighting the bogey man and then project that forwards thirty years. Erosion of rights like privacy is a one way process. What's next?


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