UK Debates the Value and Risks of CCTV

By John Honovich, Published Jun 05, 2010, 08:00pm EDT

The UK seems simultaneously more passionate and worried about the use of CCTV / video surveillance than almost any other country worldwide. A good demonstration of this and the issues involved is a recent 3 part series from Info4Security (the series also includes a 6 part audio/podcast that is found on the previous link in the lower right hand side).

For those not familiar with the UK's approach to surveillance, two elements are especially important to note:

  • The UK requires licensing for most people who monitor security cameras (i.e., security guards). It's a criminal offense not to do so. This is covered and managed by the UK's Security Industry Association (for details, review an 80 page document on licensing).
  • The UK requires CCTV systems to be licensed and to met a variety of quality and privacy requirements (review the UK's CCTV Code of Practice [link no longer available] for details on this).

Both of these are fairly rare throughout the rest of the world (especially outside of Europe). It reflects the greater concern of privacy and the higher level of tension in using surveillance than in places such as the US (where the attitude is much more laissez-faire).

Some key points from the Info4Security series/discussion include:

  • Objection to concerns about UK surveillance cameras being poor quality and not fit for purpose; Norbain argues that many cameras are not installed to solve crime and such should be judged on that metric
  • Perception that people are being watched or tracked is misplaced (we agree, as a practical manner, this is hard to do and is therefore fairly rare)
  • The security world and a sequence of incompetent performances was cited by Professor Martin Gil as a key element in the industry's problems
  • Example cited were public monitors openly broke the law by allowing the public to see surveillance camera monitors
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