Despite being a controversial issue, the use of CCTVs and other surveillance camera systems is ever-increasing. The ethics of using security cameras in city centers and other public places, such as main streets, highways, alleys, and parks, is still being widely debated up until now.
This is because surveillance systems have plenty of advantages and disadvantages.
Those who are in favor of the idea of having security cameras installed are steadfast in pointing out the key advantages of having round-the-clock surveillance, which includes the main argument that it acts as a deterrent to crimes. On the other hand, those who oppose it argue that it invades their privacy.
Based on the current status quo, however, it seems that some of the most populated and biggest cities are among the ones in favor of putting up as many security cameras as possible and covering all areas for a more effective monitoring.
Public vs. Private Surveillance
Looking at it as a whole, measuring the success of CCTVS is quite difficult because their purpose is primarily for the prevention of crime. Some of the most important contributions of CCTV cameras are in retail establishments, preventing shoppers from stealing goods, as well as in offices, where false allegations are corrected or proven based on the evidence provided by security cameras.
It also has prevented countless employees from stealing office supplies and equipment or from doing illicit activities. In an Employee Theft Statistics Report, in 2012, the U.S. has experienced its fair share of theft with employees stealing over $50 billion from their companies, which is enough for company owners to worry and feel a sense of panic.
Because of the effectiveness of security systems in the aforementioned cases, the use of surveillance cameras in privately owned companies is widely accepted. However, it’s a completely different story when the issue is about its use in public areas, because there are accompanying negative effects to its use.
However the same studies that reported the effectiveness of these security systems to prevent crimes, such as theft and property damage, also found that the presence of a surveillance camera did nothing to prevent crimes of passion in public places. Another worrying fact is that while crime was deterred or reduced in an area with surveillance cameras installed, thieves and other criminals just move on to those areas without security systems. It has even been indicated that crime rates increase in places that are just a couple of blocks away from areas with plenty of monitoring systems.
Big Brother is Watching
Ever wondered about living in a city where that feeling of being watched is just a regular phenomenon? There are a growing number of cities in the world that offer that unsettling feeling. Here are some of the most “watched” cities in the world, in no particular order.
The United Kingdom, in general, is already known to many (particularly those who opposed to CCTVs in public places) as the “Big Brother State,” which refers to George Orwell’s novel “1984”, where everyone is under surveillance by an ominous character called Big Brother. This is why the British public is very much used to the fact that their every move is being recorded the moment they step out into the streets. Many are also bothered with the fact that the installation of CCTVs and hiring people to monitor them are quite expensive, which means the UK government has to spend a lot to accommodate such security measure.
Many citizens have deemed this practice as invasive and voyeuristic in nature. The United Kingdom started placing video surveillance systems since the 1960s, and as early as August of 1996, all major cities in the country had security cameras.
Surveillance cameras do not have to be registered in London, so there are no exact statistics. By 2011, it has been found that around 41 percent of public places in London have CCTVs installed, with an estimate of about 420,000 security cameras installed in London alone. BBC even cited the British Security Industry Association (BSIA), wherein there are almost 6 million CCTV cameras in Great Britain. Despite being the biggest survey that has been
conducted by the association, they were reported to have acknowledged the possibility that there could be millions more than what previous records has shown.
The BSIA, however, said that the idea that London has more security cameras than most countries might be incorrect, because other nations might not be keeping a full record or the number of cameras that they have.
If ever a business trip or a vacation has landed you in China, you might as well smile and pose for the millions of cameras that surround you. Just this year, China purportedly has about a staggering 30 million surveillance cameras, which started only in 2005, and this is according to the country’s National Public Radio (NPR). According to NPR, these cameras are placed in almost every place imaginable, from public roads and highways to outside of people’s residences.
If you think Skynet is just some made-up computer system that attempts to destroy mankind in the Terminator film series, think again. China invested $16 billion on its nationwide security and surveillance program from 2009 to 2011. Guess what it’s called? Skynet. Just in 2011, there were about 13 million surveillance cameras installed. It doesn’t stop there, though. The number of installations is expected to rise by a whopping 20 percent each year, which will continue for the next five years.
This is certainly quite a transformation, since Great Britain was said to have 1.5x more surveillance cameras than China, despite having such a smaller population. At that time, China only had about 2.75 million as compared to U.K.’s 4.2 million CCTVs. Beijing, leading other major Chinese cities, now has more or less a staggering 800,000 CCTV cameras, as stated by Secretary General Wu Hequan of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
To give you a clearer idea, you can find as many as 60 surveillance cameras in a city block the size of Tiananmen Square.
The Windy City is the third most populated city in the United States, and has always been known for its breezy weather, rich culture and stunning architecture. However, starting in 2005, Chicago became popular for something more controversial, which is their high number of security cameras. When Operation Virtual Shield was launched as part of the Homeland Security Grid, the city had 600-mile long fiber optics covering the city.
In 2011, Chicago has seen 1,700 new installations, while the Chicago Public Schools are planning to add dozens, if not hundreds, more. These security systems are composed of street cameras as well as surveillance cameras placed on train stations and other public stations. The city was also fortunate enough to access the Board of Trade and Federal Reserve’s private security networks.
Earlier this year, Forrest Claypool, president of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), made an announcement regarding the installation of new HD security cameras in their 850 rail cars. Prior to this, there are already over 3,600 cameras placed along the city’s railways, both on trains and in the stations. The CTA have spent around $26 million already on video monitoring systems to deter crimes.
With the Boston Marathon bombings further threatening city security, there are now around 22,000 cameras within Chicago, the latest addition being 500 surveillance cameras under the governance of Mayor Emanuel, according to Executive Director Gary Schenkel of the Office of Emergency Management and Communications. Prior to the Boston Marathon bombings, the use of video monitoring was regarded as useful, but has since become glorified because of the speedy capture of the suspects through the city’s monitoring systems.
As early as 2008, the Washington D.C. government has been creating a system that would connect them to thousands of government-owned cameras. This involved 24/7 monitoring of CCTVs that were run by nine of the city’s government agencies. In the first phase alone, around 4,500 security cameras placed on educational institutions, public housing, government properties, and more will send live feed to D.C.’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.
The number of CCTV cameras in the District in 2008 has increased three-fold since 2001. The city government alone has installed over 5,000 surveillance cameras in 2008, and is likely to have jumped in increasingly high numbers by this year. This surge in installations has been marked by continuous advances in security systems technology, particularly in installation and video transmission. The Metropolitan Police Department alone, as of June of 2013, has 123 CCTV cameras scattered all over the city for monitoring.
The City that Never Sleeps can now sleep soundly thanks to the city’s thousands of surveillance cameras that will watch over public places, streets, and railways. The New York Police Department (NYPD), assisted by the federal budget, now has a large data system that connects 3,000 security cameras. These monitoring devices are not your ordinary tools, as they are either equipped with radiation sensors or license plate readers, as well as linked to criminal databases and terror suspect lists.
Many have attributed the burgeoning trend of security cameras to the 9/11 tragedy. Now NYC has a state-of-the-art video monitoring systems that can easily identify suspects after a crime or even catch them in the process of committing a crime. Their cameras transport live data into a command center that analyzes pertinent data.
The estimate is that there are roughly about 6,000 government-owned cameras in the Big Apple. The city government is quick to admit that they are focused on delivering more visibility and less privacy, just to amp up security measures.