I’m Peter Webster, chief executive of Corps Security, and this is where I examine the issues affecting the security industry. My thoughts and opinions are intended to generate debate and whether you agree or disagree with them, you’re welcome to post your comments below.
As a firm believer in the benefits that CCTV based surveillance offers organisations, individuals and society as a whole, I’m constantly dismayed about the way that it is negatively portrayed in the media. Emotive terms such as ‘big brother’ and ‘curtailed freedoms’ are often used in conjunction with this technology, with little or no attention paid to its positive attributes.
It has even been suggested that the use of CCTV is out of control. While a 2011 study carried out by the deputy chief constable of Cheshire, Graeme Gerrard, put the number of CCTV cameras in the UK at 1.85 million, a recent report by the British Security Industry Association (BSIA) estimated that there are between 4 million and 5.9 million CCTV cameras in the UK.
More recently, the government waded in with more ammunition for the naysayers when Andrew Rennison, its first surveillance commissioner, was charged with producing the recently published Surveillance Camera Code of Practice. Speaking in 2012 about the use of HD CCTV he was quoted as saying, ‘The technology has overtaken our ability to regulate it. I’m convinced that if we don’t regulate it properly there will be a huge public backlash.’ His comments certainly managed to divide opinion and in my view much of what he has said on the issue was nonsensical and naive in the extreme.
However, while I accept CCTV is an emotive issue, recent research by the security products division of Siemens sets the record straight by suggesting that among the UK’s adult population there is widespread support for the use of CCTV in reducing crime.
The study – carried out by YouGov – questioned adults in France, Germany, Spain, Sweden and the UK about their views on CCTV and its role in society. The research was prompted by concerns about the widespread use of this technology and the ability of governments around the world to regulate it to avoid abuse.
Respondents were asked to agree or disagree with two statements. The first statement was ‘I disagree that the widespread use of CCTV cameras infringes on people’s civil liberties’. 65 per cent of UK respondents said that they felt that CCTV does not curtail freedom – the second highest. The second statement was ‘I agree that CCTV cameras are useful in reducing crime and providing evidence to the police’. 81 per cent of UK respondents answered positively to this question.
I find these results hugely encouraging, as they counter much of the hyperbole directed at CCTV and lead me to believe that the ‘silent majority’ are not fooled by the exaggerated protestations of the few. Just as importantly, they suggest that the public understands the benefits that it brings to the detection and prosecution of crime and the role it plays in keeping them safe from harm.
What is clear though is that the ability of CCTV to serve its purpose depends on the way it is used and by whom. While the kind of activity based monitoring that is provided by the Corps Monitoring Centre (CMC) is highly effective, one person looking at 50 screens in a live monitoring situation has its obvious flaws. Put simply, it is unlikely that live monitoring of public areas will identify real time crimes, however good quality recording can provide vital evidence to identify and prosecute criminals.. This is where investment must be made in analytical software and recording technology and training people how to use it properly and to best effect.
Ultimately, debating the role and use of CCTV in society is healthy and the fact that it elicits strong feelings – both for and against – should be welcomed. However, misinformation that is generated to suit a particular argument is counterproductive and it is clear from Siemens’ study that the vast majority of the UK population recognises it as a force for good.