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 562.

    I have no problems with it at present, and would welcome more cameras in some rural areas.

    However I don't always trust the police to use it sensibly and not for more trivial offences.

  • rate this

    Comment number 561.

    535. Bridge59
    "There's no legitimate reason in the world ( I stress legitimate) to be fussed about CCTV"

    Except there is no proof they deter crime, most of them are turned off, lack of CCTV regulation and so on. BTW 2 Merseyside council employees were jailed recently because they were using CCTV too spy on a women undressing in her HOME. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/merseyside/4609746.stm

  • rate this

    Comment number 560.

    "However, I could imagine a backlash against them were they ever proven to be used against law abiding people."

    Don't be silly, they already are being used to generate millions from motorists for tiniest of tiny offences. £130 for a yellow box junction, or nearly double that for shoplifting. Get real, people !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 559.

    If the principle of increasing surveillance to 'prevent crimes' is a good one and if many indicators of a likely future crime happen behind closed doors - conversations, communications, preferred TV / reading material, friends, family, acquaintances, etc. - then it would be consistent to extend surveillance into every space as technology allows.

    Why not monitor the bedroom and the bathroom?

  • rate this

    Comment number 558.

    "First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
    Then they came for the socialists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionists.
    Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me."

    Martin Niemöller

  • rate this

    Comment number 557.

    Who watches the watchmen? Not the HDCCTV, the police can touch someone that's assault by beating in their own warped world (a touch).

    Police think they can lie harass and intimidate anyone because they'll never see them again, people are scared because it's the police. They do so because they get treated badly by some people they meet and within their own half-wit coward culture.

  • rate this

    Comment number 556.

    I have read many complaints when police appeal for witnesses to crimes. People are outraged at how poor the picture quality is of CCTV footage. Now that these pleas have now been answered people feel the need to slate the initiative.

  • rate this

    Comment number 555.

    For god's sake people of the UK, stop being so damn trusting in technology and the Government Offices for that matter.

    Several comments suggest a good thing to catch criminals........WRONG, most cannot be used in court due to privacy laws from the EU, so chances of your burglar being caught same as now....not much

  • rate this

    Comment number 554.

    And why not, heaven1977? What harm would it do? It would be a complete waste of resources, but who would it hurt?

  • rate this

    Comment number 553.

    There are numerous Home Office reports and government funded reports clearly indicating that CCTV has no effect on the intended purpose which is crime. You may think this is true but look it up yourself. The fact is CCTV is useless in most cases regarding crime and thats what the home office says. Yet in the same reports what do they call for? More CCTV, and their goal is PANACEA(google it).

  • rate this

    Comment number 552.

    I'm a law abiding citizen so I have nothing to worry about and couldn't care less how many cameras I am caught on doing nothing and if you live where I do with kids and adults basically doing what they like dog mess,smoking puff and chucking finished takeaways and getting away with it with because there are no police and the current cctv cameras are such poor quality you couldn't pick yourself out

  • rate this

    Comment number 551.

    3 Minutes ago
    If you're doing nothing wrong, nobody's interested in you.

    Unless you're pretty rrrrrrrr. I keep posting this, just Google 'Girls on CCTV' and see if you recognise anyone. Dontcha know that the 'good footage' gets on the 'net - and that it's the most sinister thing ever created? Where you livin' people, no. 2 Ivory Towers? Some good shots from hotels, bars, streets

  • Comment number 550.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 549.

    "I've had two £1500 bikes stolen at different times, both whilst securely locked with £150 locks to concrete anchored rings in the garage."

    I cant work it out

    Are you blaming bad CCTV footage for your loss?

    Or, are you bemoaning the fact that having already had one bike stolen you were stupid enough to do the very same thing again without enhancing the security?

  • rate this

    Comment number 548.

    besides if you dont do any wrong why would they monitor you at all

    =>That old platitude again. Recall the MILLIONS of Germans who'd done nothing wrong so had nothing to monitor in 1925 when Hitler was released from prison. In 1945 they were dead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 547.

    "@ 512."

    I've no time for the Hate Mail but your life consists of choosing within a limited range and debate cannot go beyond this. You call choosing to ridicule the Daily Mail freedom?

    Read a little, meditate, travel, see other cultures, and you'll see there are more important things in life than the endless rhetoric and deceit of government be they western or middle eastern.

  • rate this

    Comment number 546.

    Why not go the whole hog and implant the population with trackers at birth to ensure we are all law abiding automatons. Not a problem, as we all seem to have 100% faith in our political law makers who use this technology. No? ok, why can we all not get access to these cameras and track those in power then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 545.

    The more the better in my opinion.

    My university lecturer has been working on software which can identify peoples height/walk/clothing; meaning a suspect found on one camera can potentially be found/identified on any other camera automatically.

    The more intelligent and detailed they become the better...

    Anyone with the 'big-brother' opinion is foolish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 544.

    Why not fit everyone one from birth with a chip that records their every movement, after all if you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear, think of the speeding fines it could generate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 543.

    If Boris or Cameron are spotted breaking traffic rules again on bicycles will HD make any difference?

    Nope. They'll turn round and tell the police they're a bunch of plebs and remind them who runs the country.


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