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CCTV statistics in the UK: your questions answered

Calipsa 26 August 2020
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The UK has a reputation around the world for being one of the highest users of CCTV. But how many security cameras are there in the UK - and how many in London, reportedly one of the most-watched cities in the world?

How many CCTV cameras are there in the UK?

There are an estimated 25 million security cameras in use worldwide. The British Security Industry Association (BSIA) estimates there are between 4-5.9 million cameras in the UK. Britain has more surveillance activity than any other European country per capita - latest CCTV statistics show that there is one security camera for every 14 people. 

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How many CCTV cameras are there in London?

In a recent analysis of the world’s most surveilled cities, the Chinese city Chongqing topped the list with 2.58 million cameras - equal to one CCTV camera for every six people. As of December 2019, the five most surveilled cities are all in China, with London coming in sixth; the UK capital has a reported 627,707 CCTV cameras. 

Does CCTV reduce crime?

Surveys show that video monitoring can reduce certain types of crime. The College of Policing’s Crime Reduction Toolkit suggests that CCTV prevents an average of 16 crimes for every 100, and for vehicle crimes, this rises to an average of 26. In a car park-based context, this rises again to 51 crimes prevented for every 100. Based on all the studies the toolkit consulted, they conclude that CCTV’s effectiveness depends on how and where it is used. 

However studies also suggest that rates of violent crime are not affected by the presence of security cameras. In these cases, video footage instead becomes an invaluable tool to track down suspects afterwards. Recent events such as the Charlie Hebdo attack, the Boston Marathon bombing and the 7th July attacks in London all relied heavily on CCTV footage to identify and track down suspects.

What is the public opinion of CCTV in the UK?

Not all UK councils are convinced of CCTV’s effectiveness for crime prevention. While the UK government invested large sums to roll out CCTV during the 1990s, over the past decade many councils have been cutting it back due to lack of funds. Dyfed-Powys policing reduced their video surveillance to redirect funds back into “bobbies on the beat”, which the public wanted more.  

That’s not to say that everyone thinks security cameras are ineffective. The number of private and domestic cameras has risen dramatically over the past decade as they have become cheaper and more widely available. Pauline Nordstrom, chair of the BSIA, says that “private sector cameras now outnumber [public sector cameras] by a scale of 70 to one.”

Use of security cameras has increased in commercial settings as well as in private ones. The UK’s construction industry has reaped the benefits of remote monitoring on building sites, which are prone to costly theft and vandalism; according to the Chartered Institute of Building’s (CIOB) 2018 report on crime in the industry, around 1 in 10 businesses (9%) suffered financial losses in excess of £100,000.

For industries like construction, which are particularly vulnerable to petty crime, installing a video monitoring solution can help to reduce the likelihood of these crimes occurring. Looking at crime prevention, the CIOB report notes that 69% of businesses report enhanced lighting linked to CCTV as an effective way of preventing crime. 

What is the impact of CCTV on our right to privacy?

The more cameras are installed privately, the more that issues around privacy and right to information come under scrutiny. One of the key issues around the rapid adoption of private cameras is who becomes responsible for the footage, especially if a crime takes place. 

In an article for the BBC, the UK government’s outgoing surveillance camera commissioner Tony Porter asks, “If it is the private sector operating the technology, who owns that - is it the police or the private sector? There are too many blurred lines." Over 80% of concerns Porter receives are now regarding the use of security cameras in a domestic setting. 

Since the introduction of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), companies using CCTV on their premises are now required to take certain measures to ensure that footage of employees and the general public is stored and used appropriately. This includes only keeping footage for as long as it is needed, after which it should be deleted, and clearly informing people on-site that security cameras are in operation. People also have the right to request footage of themselves, if they wish to see it. 

When storing footage, many companies will anonymise people’s faces, to ensure that the data being stored contains an appropriate amount of information for its intended purpose. 

What about AI and CCTV?

China is currently the heaviest user of artificial intelligence (AI) in video monitoring. In recent years it has come under heavy scrutiny from human rights organisations for using facial recognition technology across state camera systems. 

With so many cameras in the UK, it was only a matter of time before AI found its way into our surveillance systems. The private operator of the King’s Cross development recently came under fire for deploying facial recognition technology in its surveillance network without express content, and without notifying the public. It sparked a public outcry and an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office, which led to the programme being scrapped. 

Several US cities have imposed a ban on facial recognition technology, including San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley. It is a divisive issue, and spokespeople in favour of facial recognition technology argue that, with the right legislation and controls in place, it can be used responsibly to reduce crime. 

But Calipsa uses AI - what information do you keep?

Calipsa is an AI software that reduces false alarms. We don’t use facial recognition technology, and we only hold data for as long as it is needed to process alarms, at which point we delete it. When processing alarms, we also anonymise the footage by blurring people’s faces - the only information we are interested in is whether a person has appeared on camera, or not. It’s not relevant for us to know who that person is, so we don’t capture that information. 

Our machine learning algorithms have been trained to recognise human activity (people and cars) in alarms sent by security cameras to central stations. We screen the alarms and filter out anything that is a false alarm, such as cobwebs on the camera, the wind blowing trees, or a cat running across. 

We believe that AI can be used to reduce crime and make the world a safer place, when it is used responsibly. Our technology is a testament to this, as we have managed to reduce false alarms by up to 98% for our customers. 

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