United Kingdom and CCTV are watching you

Pierre d'Almeida, in London, translated by Nathalie Macq
22 Novembre 2013

September 23rd, Esme Smith, a 14 year-old girl who went missing two days before, was found thanks to the security cameras of the London Waterloo’s train station. Even if these kinds of events occasionally legitimate the presence of well spread security cameras system, a "paranoid neighborhood" issue tends to emerge from its progressive privatisation.

«Bansky: One Nation Under CCTV» (2008) / Credits - oogiboig
«Bansky: One Nation Under CCTV» (2008) / Credits - oogiboig
London - and the United Kingdom in general - have been blamed for a very long time because of the CCTV surveillance system becoming a traditional aspect of the country. However, the British capital city’s inhabitants are known for being honest people and exemplary citizens. They have easy access to information, as there are numerous Transport for London advertisements placarded across the network, asking people not to take it out on the staff, under the threat of fines for incivility. Thanks to the audio announcement “CCTV [Closed-circuit Television] is broadcasting on these premises” in the tube, which comes after the famous “mind the gap”, this transparency is plain to see. Everyone is filmed at all time, and no one seems to mind.
For almost twenty years, the number of video cameras has dramatically increased on the British territory, amounting to 500,000 in London city and to 5 million in the entire United Kingdom in 2013. Its introduction in the 1990’s, was preceded by several experiments in the country. It is important to note that CCTV is only marginally used for public interest, most of it being managed by the government. This system was first set in London to prevent bad manners such as illegal parking, trespassing the Congestion charge zone, non-respect of the Highway Code, and crimes. Its wide development, especially following the London riots, seems to have strengthened a neighbourhood paranoia.

Filming others to protect yourself

A recent survey led by the British Security Industry Association established that among the 5 million cameras, only 1.5% is actually managed by public services. These cameras, jointly managed by local authorities and the police services, have their footage made available to the United Kingdom’s citizens - an average of 52 cameras are spread out on London's 250 tube stations.
Most of the CCTV network is the result of demands from the private sector and covers a surprising variety of places: from train companies to treatment plants, including farms, shops, auction rooms or landfills. In these cases, the aim of using a CCTV system is to protect private properties, prevent robberies and delinquencies, and guarantee the security of these locations at any cost. Therefore, any fear of a “Big Brother” –like state that some people denounced does not stand up. As this video-surveillance is rarely used for public purposes, the omniscient telescreen described in George Orwell’s 1984 is only a fantasy. Still, the present situation is worrying.

Towards vigilante justice?

It must be noted that despite the development of surveillance techniques, the main objective of crime-solving or crime prevention is still in its early stages. The goal of the Closed Circuit Television in the United Kingdom is first of all to find evidence in all police matters. Unfortunately, despite these noble intentions to catch criminals and the involvement of everyday citizens, the British police present a very low crime-solving rate.
In 2008, a British police report concluded that only 3% of crimes were solved thanks to CCTV. The same year, a Metropolitan Police report indicated that 1,000 cameras only solved one crime on average. This recent spread of CCTV on private properties raises concerns surrounding the “privatisation of the justice system”. In 2009, because of a lack of personnel in the surveillance sector, a website even went as far as to offer money to people not belonging to the police in exchange of monitoring CCTV feeds 24/7, and duly note every noticeable crime.
A lack of regulation on private equipment and the limited results of public CCTV have led to troubles within the surveillance sector, and created a genuine “neighbourhood paranoia”. In these conditions, denouncing is encouraged and the police see their responsibilities somewhat taken away.

On Saturday, September 21st, 2013, the recording of a man stealing about 5 dozens of fountain pens in a supermarket in the South-East of England was made public. Every citizen recognizing the man was urged to contact anonymously the police immediately.


1.Posté par rochelle griffiths le 03/12/2013 21:27
Fantastic work!

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