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 582.

    IMS Research tracks shipments of HD surveillance cameras. While 130k HD cameras in the UK in 2012 looks OK, a forecast of 3.7m by 2016 is high. We forecast less than 2m video surveillance cameras in total will be sold to the UK between 2013 and the end of 2016. Many of these will not be HD and some will be replacements for existing cameras.

  • rate this

    Comment number 581.

    I for one don't mind. My view is this: If I'm not doing anything wrong, then why do I need to worry if I am identifiable? If anything, proves i'm innocent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 580.

    I was assaulted in Spring and it was a nearby CCTV camera catching the attack which provided the main evidence in convicting the assailants. I would have been gutted if the police hadn't been able to convict the people so am very pleased that cameras are around and of high enough quality to be of use!

  • rate this

    Comment number 579.

    There was a guy in London who dropped litter. They followed him to the outskirts through CCTV and fined him, I remember reading about it a year or so ago. For all those who say they don't care because they don't put a TOE in the wrong, well now you will be able to prove it, because if you have it your way, CCTV in the home of people and at the very least on every single street isn't far away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 578.

    CCTV is worth it just to upset the civil liberties muesli eaters.

    The paranoid types will have that condition whether CCTV exists or not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 577.

    The problem is not with the cameras, do we trust the people who have access to the images they produce.

  • rate this

    Comment number 576.

    The more the better in my opinion. The only ones who fear them are those with something to hide.

  • rate this

    Comment number 575.

    I wonder how many of you pro CCTV people are also pro speeding cameras, after all if you’re not breaking the law what’s the problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 574.

    Police know which areas drug dealers are and when they go there names are taken and placed onto a computer when these names come up again in another area they have links and priorities to that person change

    CCTV sees you out there taking an innocent walk with your dog and sees you in the other area your face a name put to your face

    You are innocent but the computer has you listed as suspect

  • rate this

    Comment number 573.

    It seems to have come as a surprise to some people that, when out in public, they may be seen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 572.


    "The cameras should also be extended to the inside of pubs and clubs, and other public buildings."

    What makes you think a pub or a club is a public building? They are NOT. They are privately owned buildings and the state has NO right to mandate what does or does not happen inside them.

    And yes I do include the smoking ban. It's an infringement of basic property rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 571.

    DNA mistake linked man from Devon to Manchester RAPE


  • rate this

    Comment number 570.


    Profiling, Data Mining. Complete knowledge of everyone. The all seeing eye! TRAPWIRE is an artificial intelligence software that not only analyses CCTV. It tracks a person by your gate, your face, your phone, your internet history, your CC, your commonly frequented places, your shopping habits, and in real time if needed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 569.

    Why not go the whole hog and implant the population with trackers at birth"

    That'll be next on the agenda. We already have thousands 'chipping' their pets. Imagine what will happen when the authorities suddenly create (like they haven't been planning it all along) a chip for kids. The technology's there, the will amongst the elite is there, all that remains is to hook the people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 568.

    There will be no backlash, the vast majority of British do not want privacy and are happy to believe these cameras are for their benefit and safety.

    A story like this, the day after a little girl is snatched? It's designed for one purpose only. To make use want more cameras and less privacy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 567.

    550.brad hardacre
    If the semi educated paranoid skits on this blog bothered to read the RIPA act 2000...

    =>You see, that's fine while benign governments "rule" but if you recall the labour party and their increasing attempt to silence opposition you wonder what a malign government would do; a new Hitler who got in on false promises...

  • rate this

    Comment number 566.

    Naive to think we aren’t already being watched if suspected of criminal activity, of being a ‘dissident’ or part of the wrong minority. As for the ‘future governments’ then surely we can only hold our own political apathy to blame for allowing them to do whatever they want. Governments are a necessary evil, I would still rather live within this country's system than some others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 565.

    @389 - you watched demolition man then

  • rate this

    Comment number 564.

    Not a problem, nothing to fear unless you're up to no good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 563.

    Is regulation that specific? I find that hard to believe.

    I do question where we wish to place the limits. Yes, we want to track criminals and identify them where we can, but how far can we go before it becomes intrusion?

    Personally, main-streets, parks and public highways I feel should be monitored, as should alleys that see repeated offences.

    It's not big brother until it intrudes on privacy.


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