The UK's Gone Mad

Author: John Honovich, Published on Oct 02, 2012

Surveillance cameras are putting human rights at risk, blares a UK government official, a UK newspaper and the venerable BBC, creating an uproar of protests online.

Unfortunately, the technical claims underlying these assertions are categorically false. The UK surveillance commissioner is either being grievously misquoted, is grossly incompetent or propagating lies to rally opposition to video surveillance.

Review of Claims

Here are the claims made and the reality of each:

Claim - Face + HD: Warns about "facial recognition systems and HD cameras are allowed to proliferate on high streets."

Reality - HD cameras and facial recognition are two entirely different things. There are millions of HD cameras already deployed in the world with 99.999% of them not using facial recognition. Facial recognition is extremely rarely used with surveillance cameras. Any criticisms of the two need to be separated.

Claim - Pick Out Half a Mile: "It's the ability to pick out your face in a crowd from a camera which is probably half a mile away."

Reality - Top of the line PTZ cameras can barely capture faces at 100 meters away with an operator manually zooming in on a person. Capturing a clear image of a face a half a mile away requires very special purpose extremely expensive cameras that are rarely used even by governments. Picking a face out in a crowd a half a mile away is far harder still.

Claim - Super Magic MP: "16-megapixel HD cameras are now very affordable, so people are buying a camera with a huge optical and digital zoom power."

Reality - No one is buying 16 MP surveillance cameras with optical zooms as the one manufacturer offering them only sells fixed cameras. Very few are even buying them at all as they are quite expensive and have limited capabilities (low frame rate, super high storage costs, no 3rd party integration, etc.). Digital zoom is a red herring and has no bearing on any camera's ability to capture images of individuals.

Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox
Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox


Claim Miracle Panoramics:"A tiny camera in a dome with a 360-degree view can capture your face in the crowd."

Reality - 360, aka panoramic cameras, can barely capture face details just 10 feet away from the camera, forget about crowds accross or down the street. These cameras max out at 5MP while looking in every direction, delivering very little image detail in any one.


Claim Face Rec Accuracy: "I've seen the test reviews that show there's a high success rate of picking out your face against a database of known faces."

Reality - These tests are, ironically, mostly skewed by (the few) vendors (left) pitching these offerings. And the few government tests do not factor in the operational difficulties of using it in the real world. The false matches are typically huge and the requirements for ideal lighting and direct head image capture make the systems essentially infeasible.


Bottom line: The use of HD cameras is growing rapidly around the world but, by itself, provides little risk to the safety or privacy of individuals. The use of facial surveillance is NOT growing rapidly and continues to suffer from major operational problems.

BBC embarrassing Report

As technologically illiterate as the UK Surveillance commissioner sounds in the Independent, the BBC's article might be worse. To justify the surge in HD surveillance, the BBC cites manufacturer figures of 129,299 HD CCTV cameras in the UK by the end of 2012 rising to over 3.7 million by 2016. First, those projections are for the world, not the UK. Secondly, those are the marketing dreams of a fringe trade organization that serious industry professionals do not believe. This projection requires a 130% CAGR for the next 4 years, which would require a miracle.

The rest of the BBC report treats regular features like mechanical cut filters, WDR, and HD resolution as if they were science fiction come to life. Unfortunately and ironically, what the BBC lacks is any credible assertion about succcessful facial surveillance vendors, which is not surprisingly considering there are essentially none of them.

Update: BSIA's Bad Response

As if things could get worse, the British Security Industry Association's technical director essentially agreed that the science fiction claims made were actually correctly. Their main defense - that only criminals should really care:

“Such accuracy in detecting and identifying known criminals should only be of concern to those who have committed a crime, and should reduce the risk of innocent people being wrongly accused or convicted of a crime.”

This is an incredibly dangerous debating tactic, especially when opponents may see this as calling them criminals and where the truth is that this cannot be done accurately and effectively anyway.


If the UK surveillance commissioner or the UK public wants to regulate, restrict or eliminate surveillance cameras, so be it. That is their choice. However, to ground the complaints on so fundamentally erroneous technical foundations is embarrassing for a country with such a proud and distinguished history of designing, deploying and operating surveillance systems.

Related Reports

Video Privacy Mask Tutorial on Feb 27, 2018
Privacy has historically been hotly debated in the surveillance industry, especially in public surveillance systems where cameras may be located in...
Why 3VR Failed on Feb 16, 2018
3VR destroyed transformed ~$65 million in VC funding into a $6.9 million exit. The reason they failed is simple. They bet on analytics. They...
Ingram Micro Owner HNA Declares "Victim of Conspiracy Against China" on Feb 08, 2018
Just 2 years ago, Ingram Micro was acquired by a Chinese company that paid them $6 billion in cash, nearly 40% more than their then stock...
Convergint Damage Control on Feb 07, 2018
Convergint needs you to understand. When Convergint acquires companies, as they continuously do, it is an acquisition, e.g.: But when...
Chinese Police Wearing Facial Recognition Are Here on Feb 06, 2018
This is a very interesting and highly atypical usage of facial recognition that the Chinese government touted this week: It is a PRC police...
Hanwha: Chinese Products Damaged Industry on Jan 25, 2018
Hanwha Techwin's CEO has come out swinging against the Chinese. In this note, we examine his statements, the relative positioning of Chinese and...
Axis: "It’s A Question Of Trust And Who You Want To Be Associated With" on Jan 17, 2018
Who do you trust? Who do you want to be associated with? Axis is raising hard questions to start 2018. In this note, we examine these questions,...
'Defiant' Hikvision 'Strikes Back' At WSJ And US on Jan 16, 2018
The fight is on. Hikvision and their owner, the Chinese government, 'strikes back' against the Wall Street Journal and US politicians raising...
Chinese Government Attacks Western Reports on Jan 03, 2018
The Chinese government is angry at the BBC and WSJ's reporting on Chinese video surveillance (see BBC Features Dahua and WSJ Investigates China's...
$800 Axis Thermal Camera Examined on Jan 02, 2018
Axis is releasing two of the lowest cost thermal IP cameras ever. But will low cost be enough to spur adoption? In this note, we examine the 2 new...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Free Trip To China - CCTV.Net / Univew on Mar 15, 2018
Pack your bags? 'Closer than you think'? Well, a non-stop flight from NYC to Shanghai is 15 hours plus another 100 miles to Hangzhou...
Rack Mounting NVRs Tutorial on Mar 15, 2018
Rack mounting recorders is common in professional systems, but manufacturers are making it difficult, with simple design failures causing multiple...
Access Control - Restricted Keys Guide on Mar 15, 2018
Not all doors, even in larger facilities, can justify using electronic access control. And even for doors that do have electronic access control,...
Network Addressing for Video Surveillance Guide on Mar 14, 2018
The goal of this guide is to explain addressing devices on IP networks, focusing on how IP cameras and recorders are used in those networks. For...
Panasonic Selling Off Security Camera Factory on Mar 14, 2018
Panasonic is OEMing cameras from Dahua, as IPVM testing confirmed in 2017. Now, Panasonic is selling their security camera factory, according to...
Favorite Electrified Locks 2018 on Mar 14, 2018
Electronic lock manufacturing is dominated by 3 conglomerates (alphabetically) Allegion, Assa and Dormakaba holding numerous electronic lock...
Hikvision Chairman Joins China National Government (NPC) on Mar 13, 2018
Hikvision Chairman and Communist Party Secretary Chen Xongnian has joined the People's Republic of China's government - the National People's...
3D Install App For Physical Security (BILT) on Mar 13, 2018
Installation of security hardware is a skill that has historically been complicated to train new installers, and just as complicated to quote...
Chinese Government Builds Far-Reaching, Allegedly Corrupt, Surveillance System in Ecuador on Mar 13, 2018
Thousands of Chinese security cameras, including many made by Huawei, are watching Ecuadorians around the clock thanks to an integrated emergency...
Google Clips Camera Tested - Weak AI on Mar 12, 2018
The Google Clips is drawing a lot of interest, especially given its use of artificial intelligence (AI) to deliver a 'smart' camera. Indeed, Google...

The world's leading video surveillance information source, IPVM provides the best reporting, testing and training for 10,000+ members globally. Dedicated to independent and objective information, we uniquely refuse any and all advertisements, sponsorship and consulting from manufacturers.

About | FAQ | Contact