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 502.

    I really do laugh at all those people who think this is surveillance... How many people do you think it would take to watch the output from every CCTV camera?

    It takes a HUGE amount of manpower to review CCTV footage, and that's when you know what you're looking for.

    As per usual, the liberty loonies seek to protect the rights of those who would do us harm. Well done...

  • rate this

    Comment number 501.

    No problem, the sooner the better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 500.

    They should have the ability to talk as well, that might stop people dropping litter, just imagining that the camera telling you to pick up you mess.... You the person in the red top pick it up, no not you, ugly one carring the bag... Pick it up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 499.

    @443 - Between Vodafone and Barclays my location is known at all times already so in a sense your location might already be continually monitored.

  • rate this

    Comment number 498.

    Get on with it, I say. Even if criminals do wear hoods, it will still be good for the balaclava industry. Unless they steal the balaclavas - priority should be to put CCTV in balaclava outlets, then roll it out to all the other shops.

  • rate this

    Comment number 497.

    I've got a suspicious feeling that our every day lives are all ready monitored from internet phone and surveillance into a massive database that is not in this country and at this moment it will be used against you in future laws it will most definitely not be our laws in this Country it will be sold to gain money/fines and even deportation and death you were warned but you ignored the warnings

  • rate this

    Comment number 496.

    OK... time for the Anonymous touch. We all wear 'health' masks as is common in many places on this earth.

    Those who dont have problems with these intrusions into personal space and privacy, really need to think about it.

    Maybe a camera in their bedroom to ensure only missionary sex takes place etc.???????

  • rate this

    Comment number 495.

    478. whoisfabian

    People are so paranoid!


    Its not paranoia its an inflated sense of self importance...

    The average person will no doubt be captured on CCTV hundreds of times a year but no one cares, because they're not doing anything interesting!

  • rate this

    Comment number 494.

    476 OLDCOMP.
    A wholly relevant quote goes "If we restrict liberty to attain security we will lose them both." -Benjamin Franklin

  • rate this

    Comment number 493.

    My mates girlfriend had her purse & mobile stolen from her handbag in a busy pub a few summers back.

    The thief was identified by the bar staff within 30 minutes using their own on site camera.

    The footage was passed to the police and he was prosecuted. CCTV does work but it will never catch 100% of criminals.

    Having CCTV is better than not having it. Better quality may lead to more convictions!

  • rate this

    Comment number 492.

    Nick Ebrell
    1 Minute Ago

    I'm sure there are satellites, up there, right now that can record the whole of the UK from one lens in real time to a fantastic level of definition.

    Just wait till that's hooked up to the internet!

    They already are. How do you think our intelligence and military organisations share such satellite imagery?

  • rate this

    Comment number 491.

    Could someone give me examples of CCTV impinging on peoples lives and leading to any kind of Human Rights breach?Otherwise this is just anecdotal nonsense. With due respect to all the 'Big Brother' theorists out there, the Police hardly have enough time to check CCTV of actual crimes without wasting their time filming/tracking the innocent. Current CCTV is inadequate, HD is the way forward.

  • rate this

    Comment number 490.

    At this moment I don't have a problem with them...I like the idea that more crooks and thieves are caught and imprisoned.
    However, I could imagine a backlash against them were they ever proven to be used against law abiding people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 489.


    "The 'slippery slope' arguement is nonsense. It assumes you can't have one situation without it deteriorating into another."

    We live in an age of slippery slopes, we don't even have plain packaging for tobacco yet but it's already being considered for alcohol and unhealthy food. And yet we were assured by ASH and other anti-smoking zealots that there was no slippery slope. Wooosh!

  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    All this Big Brother stuff seems like a red herring. Every study I have seen suggests that pound for pound the crime prevention and crime solving benefits of CCTV are terrible compared to the same amount of money (£515m) being channeled into the regional police forces. This should just be a value for money debate I feel. And the figures seem to indicate there's nothing to debate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 487.

    I don't understand why people have a problem with this! I couldn't care less if I'm being filmed from the moment I step out of my house until the moment I step back in, in fact, it would make me feel much safer. The network of cameras should also be extended to the inside of pubs and clubs, and other public buildings. I'm sick to death of anti-social behavior and CCTV will help to stamp it out!

  • rate this

    Comment number 486.

    Why should "the council" be able to snoop on all sorts of petty offences. Fine in the post, more like a greedy council.

    In fact, why should the council be allowed to enforce its own laws? If it makes the laws and pockets the financial penalty then it has an incentive to abuse that position.

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    478.whoisfabian "People are so paranoid!"

    I think you'll find its the government who is paranoid.
    NO ONE asks for this technology, they instil it upon us with OUR tax money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 484.

    @472 Helen

    See post @467 and click link

    I reiterate

    Policemen are Reactive and Proactive CCTV is just reactive

    we can watch the cctv footage of someone getting a battering after the fact or we can have a policeman on the streets who will do his duty and run in to stop it

    I know which one of those makes me feel safer

  • rate this

    Comment number 483.

    I'm sure there are satellites, up there, right now that can record the whole of the UK from one lens in real time to a fantastic level of definition.

    Just wait till that's hooked up to the internet!


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