Looking at CCTV


Britain is the most watched nation in the world with around 4 million CCTV cameras installed across Britain. The London Borough of Wandsworth has a higher number of them than Dublin, San Francisco, Johannesburg and Boston combined. Cameras can be easily installed by local councils, and are a way to visibly display that an issue is being ‘tackled’. However, the exponential rise in cameras simply serves to suggest that as a nation we cannot be trusted, and that if we are not being watched over we are somehow unsafe.

The ‘success’ of CCTV cameras in securing convictions has often been used as an excuse to support even more invasive forms of state monitoring. However, statistics show that CCTV cameras simply do not work. The crimes actually caught on camera fell by 70% between 2003/4 and 2008/09, while in London only one in seven crimes solved involved the use of CCTV. Many cameras are ill-positioned, lack film or are of such poor quality that they can’t be used as evidence in court.

Spending on CCTV guzzles three-quarters of the crime prevention budget, and so provides very little bang for our buck. £500 million was spent on new cameras in London between 1996 and 2006. This is £500 million that could have been spent on a number of better measures, such as employing or training police, and tailoring crime-fighting strategies to suit local areas. Coating the country in all-seeing-eyes has proved to be an expensive and inefficient use of resources, and dramatically reducing the number of cameras in the UK would be a good way to rein in profligate spending and create a freer society.