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 602.

    Any one who has an issue with CCTV has something to hide. Crime rate has dropped considerably since we got a CCTV camera near our house. Build more I say

  • rate this

    Comment number 601.

    Since we have tacitly accepted CCTV, we can hardly complain about higher resolution cameras. Only rogues have something to fear, but I much regret how cameras will replace human policing. Strange, but my local Wagamama restaurant has CCTV, so I won't eat there – a step too far.

  • rate this

    Comment number 600.

    A lot commenters here overlook that these cameras monitor public places, not people. If they can do facial recognition, etc., what's the problem? If they spot someone on the 'watchlist' (i.e. wanted) or can spot or record a crime in progress at enough quality to identify the criminal(s), bravo! Otherwise, no worries.
    In a public place, anyone can see me. So why not a camera?

  • rate this

    Comment number 599.

    "I have nothing to hide" = I don't understand privacy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 598.

    Hogwash, I fear them and have nothing to hide and I suspect the same goes for most of the people who have said the same thing on this HYS, how about some evidence to back up your glib comment. Personally I’d just like to go about my daily business without being secretly filmed, there are even some reports that cameras have been installed in some school washrooms are you happy with that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 597.

    Noticing a trend here.

    We put cameras up to help police.

    Papers run stories about invasion of privacy, evil men in white vans, etc.

    Paranoia runs rampant, so when the regulator talks about advancing tech, the story is a victim of attempted high-jacking.

    HysR: That's why the regulations need sorting and tougher penalties introduced.

    CCTV itself didn't spy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 596.

    1. The introduction of email addresses being stored so that the government can see who you were talking to? [and who here believes they will only take the addresses?]
    2. The introduction of face recognition technology and more CCTV
    3. The introduction of ID Cards

    This is not about Crime this is about Control

    This is not about a conspiracy theory just take a long hard look at all of the measures

  • rate this

    Comment number 595.

    Comment number 545. Robert
    "Anyone with the 'big-brother' opinion is foolish."

    This immediately after you've just detailed a RECREATIONAL surveillance system that can determine minute details of everyone who walks past it.

    Foolish for being sceptical? History disagrees with you, I'm afraid.

    Enjoy your pretence of safety, in a few years you may well have been proven fatally incorrect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 594.

    The more cameras the better imho, that goes for filming of public and private officials by private indivuals as well.. whats good for the goose and all that

  • rate this

    Comment number 593.

    If I have nothing to fear if I'm behaving myself, can the pro CCTV brigade please supply some factual evidence to support this theory, as I have provided evidence to prove the contrary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 592.

    Nothing to hide...nothing to fear. If we are going to have CCTV, it should be fit for purpose. No point recording a crime and finding the images are so poor they're useless. So bring on the HD cameras and hopefully crime will either drop or be easier to prosecute. It will be worth it if it stops or aids the prosecution of just one crime. I'd rather be safer than have 'privacy' whilst being mugged!

  • rate this

    Comment number 591.

    @545 Robert - Big Brother is not foolish - the government then capitalises by making new, sillier and more restrictive laws.

  • rate this

    Comment number 590.

    If you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to worry about.
    Not sure one on EVERY street corner is needed though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 589.

    What utter tosh! In a week where the best part of Machynlleth have turned out for a missing girl - as well as people travelling 300 miles to join in the search. I'm sure they would like more HD CCTV...

  • rate this

    Comment number 588.

    MI5 have/had a file on Ricky Tomlinson, a supposed "political thug" and they are alleged to have carried out a "dirty tricks" campaign to discredit him.

    They also are alleged to have infiltrated the BBC for similar reasons.

    Just think what MI5 could do with increased CCTV in such cases.

    It's actions such as MI5's in this case that we who oppose CCTV are concerned about.

    Think about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 587.

    RodLiddlesBraincell ... these are the trivial offences that these camera's should not be used for.Good example.

  • rate this

    Comment number 586.

    550.brad hardacre

    "they would realise the use of cameras by the authorities is already massively regulated and supervised by equally paranoid officials."

    Do you realize RIPA was actually anti-terrorist legislation yet it is used to catch non-dog-poop-scoopers ?

    How much evidence of slippery slopes and useless regulation do you want?

  • rate this

    Comment number 585.

    I am fed up with the righteous who seem to think that this is some sort of offence against their rights.

    Please get indignant at important things not whether you are being watched on camera. And yes of course more police on the streets would help but be realistic it will never be enough or be cost effective enough compared to a cameria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 584.


    "Do i care if i'm watched by 500 CCTV cameras daily. No, my face will be ignored as i'm not doing anything wrong."

    This is a very, very large assumption.

  • rate this

    Comment number 583.

    I'm not sure how this differs from having lots of policeman standing on street corners looking for law breaking and recording what they see. People want more and more policemen walking the beat, but fear cameras as some big brother nightmare. Seems illogical.


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