Councils halve spending on CCTV, but is this the lull before a new surveillance storm?

Big Brother Watch Team / February 23, 2016

Report SwooshToday we have released Are They Still Watching?“, a brand new report which reveals that local authorities have substantially cut spending on their CCTV systems over the past three years.

10 years on from the UK being defined as the “most watched nation on earth” our report reveals that between 2012 and 2015 local authorities reduced the number of CCTV cameras by 12.5% and reduced spending on CCTV by 46.6%.

Whilst encouraging, these figures are a snapshot of spending during a period of austerity. New surveillance technologies are fast approaching and councils may be looking to update their ageing systems over the next few years.

As Tony Porter the Surveillance Camera Commissioner points out in his foreword to this report: “Despite the reduction in spending … I am certain that new and advancing technologies will see further investment by local authorities to deliver new and exciting capabilities.”

Whilst the findings of this report appear encouraging, the reduction in spending may be nothing more than a lull before the storm of more intrusive, biometric or 3D cameras appearing on our streets.

Should councils wish to invest in smart digital CCTV systems we urge them to do so by proper consultation with local residents.

A measured approach should be taken with any surveillance system. Privacy should always be given as much weight as security.

Key Findings

Results are for the years 2012 to 2015 unless otherwise stated.

    • Local authorities control at least 45,284 CCTV cameras, a 12.5% decrease from 2012.
    • At least £277,079,999.60 has been spent on the installation, maintenance and monitoring of these cameras, a decrease of 46.4% from 2012.
    • £38,235,429.13 was spent on the installation of CCTV a decrease of 57.3% from 2012.
    • £139,550,589.09 was spent on the maintenance of cameras a decrease of 42% from 2012.
    • £99,293,981.38 was spent on the wages and salary costs of CCTV operators a decrease of 47% from 2012.

Based on the findings of the report we propose a number of policy recommendations, which should be adopted before newer and more invasive technologies are installed:

  1. Any improvement of systems to include additional capabilities such as smart technology, biometrics or linking systems must consider the increased risk to citizen’s privacy. This should be clearly addressed in the business case, and privacy impact assessment.
  2. Local authorities should regularly report statistics on the number of crimes detected, investigated and solved by each camera to demonstrate the necessity.
  3. A single point of contact should be created to oversee CCTV use and resolve complaints.
  4. A single enforceable Code of Practice which applies to all CCTV cameras should be released.

You can read our full report here.