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 542.

    Gross misrepresentation.
    ANY decent civil liberties org wouldn't care about the efficacy of the technology, only about it's impact on human rights and the expectation of privacy.

    I'll also remind people (again) that the government plan to record EVERYTHING YOU DO ONLINE, as well as having closed trials without a jury to cover up government complicity in serious crime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 541.

    TC i agree with you, but with 70 mill people in the UK they could not monitor them all, besides if you dont do any wrong why would they monitor you at all ..........

  • rate this

    Comment number 540.

    I've had two £1500 bikes stolen at different times, both whilst securely locked with £150 locks to concrete anchored rings in the garage. City Council CCTV across the road watched both times, as the thieves pulled up, got out, went down the side alley and came back half an hour later with the bikes. The quality was so bad they couldn't even make out the numberplate. We need HD surveillance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 539.

    Lets face it CCTV is good only for one thing - the gratification of its pervert operators

  • rate this

    Comment number 538.

    IN my opinion the police are not intrested in any EVIDENCE all they do is wait until some fool walks in to the station and gives a confession! TRUST me i have given the police foolprove evidence in my line of work and they do NOTHING !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 537.

    Don't break the law and don't play with yourself in camara shot of their eerie dead eye gaze simples... Still rather the police controlled HD CCTV than google

  • rate this

    Comment number 536.

    Dunno about everyone else, but I certainly feel a lot safer walking through town on my own at night when there are CCTV cameras active. HD CCTV will allow proper recognition of people who are connected to crime... that can only be a positive thing as it allows the police to track where and what they were doing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 535.

    What's up with people?
    There's no legitimate reason in the world ( I stress legitimate) to be fussed about CCTV.
    For me, you could GPS tag everybody and have DNA samples taken at birth.Only criminals and " Human Rights" lawyers would quibble.
    Additionally, if one was religious, you'd already believe that your actions are monitored.
    If you're doing nothing wrong, nobody's interested in you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 534.

    Orwell's 1984 has been here for a while. Duped/comforted that it's for 'our security'.

    Which is all fine and well with current governments, but who knows what future governments we have. These laws, ANPR, tracking devices in phones and 24/7 on CCTV are here to stay. Be careful such state spying.


  • rate this

    Comment number 533.

    God forbid my child ever goes missing like poor April Jones. But if he did and it was caught on HD CCTV I would thank God. I am not going to commit a crime and the more things that keep my family safe the better. Let's all pray for poor April.

  • rate this

    Comment number 532.

    Anyone who is going to commit a crime will conceal their identity, this is about monitoring people who don't fit in with the governments agenda. People who excercise their right to protest.

    My sister was an active member of CND in the day and emigrated to Austrailia to escape the phone taps and mail interceptions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 531.

    Tracking of 'dissidents' will for certain be added its uses.
    Dissident being anyone who has dared question a politician or the government line.
    Tracked, traced and recorded without any need for undercover police.

    But clearly only those with something to hide should worry.
    Provided you are a complete carpet for the government, and they never ever make any mistakes you will be fine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 530.

    2 Minutes ago
    I understand that Google already has a face recognition software"

    Yeah, have you tried it, it's brilliant.Try using a picture of yourself and see who you look like. It's hilarious.

    HDCCTV - coming to a home computer near you. Wear a hat and a fake Zappa moustache to go shopping, if you don't want the fuzz to know which sex shops you go to..

  • rate this

    Comment number 529.

    CCTV has been heavily criticised by civil liberties groups for being ineffective and "not fit for purpose" due to poor image quality. Now that HD cameras are very effective, the same groups are complaining about human rights !
    No government has the time or technology to track everyone's location constantly. The focus is ALWAYS on catching the law-breakers. The rest of us are invisible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 528.

    " How many people do you think it would take to watch the output from every CCTV camera? "

    It takes 1 person to switch on the face recognition software and the computer does the rest

    But then as many who share your views you do not look at what will happen beyond this.

    I hate to sound like a 3rd grade school teacher but try to follow the logical steps to their conclusions

  • rate this

    Comment number 527.

    CCTV is used in solving crime and potentially to discourage it. What do people mean by "invasion of privacy"? Police knowing your location? So what? Anyone on the street can see your location. People who have done nothing wrong have nothing to hide and should not think otherwise.

    A more pertinent issue with HD CCTV is funding. What are we losing out on to make money for this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 526.

    162.Shaunie Babes
    3 Hours ago
    You know, its amazing just how many of the "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" brigade draw their blinds at night.

    The reason most people draw their curtains is because they don't want to be seen in their jim-jams, (or worse).

  • rate this

    Comment number 525.

    Surely a high definition picture is better than squinting at a grainy image of some indeterminable creature moving around? "That's definitely Smith, your honour" in court is far better than "I can't quite make it all out, Sarge" at the arrest stage.

    If we are to have CCTV let's have it done properly (with adequate safeguards in place, of course!).

  • rate this

    Comment number 524.

    What difference do's it make HD or standard CCTV camera's apart from the quality of the picture none really so they can place you at a certain place at a certain time it is a two way street it can trap you in involvement of a crime or prove you were no where near

  • rate this

    Comment number 523.

    In the last 50 years our personal freedom has steadily been eroded and if this continues as doubtless it will our oppressors will benefit from high definition cameras. Tyrannical regimes always use the excuse that it is being done for the common good. Perhaps other readers could ponder on the enormous number of restrictions we have for the individual in our present society.


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