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10 Jul, 2013 21:32

Big Brother next door? Most of UK’s 6 million CCTV cameras are privately owned

Big Brother next door? Most of UK’s 6 million CCTV cameras are privately owned

There are 70 times more privately owned surveillance cameras in the UK than government ones, a new study has revealed. The research found that Britain has a total of 5.9 million cameras and called for better regulation of privately owned devices.

Some 70,000 cameras run by the British police and authorities make “perhaps only 1.2 to 1.7 per cent” of the overall number of CCTV cameras in the UK, the study reads. The research was conducted for the British Security Industry Association (BSIA), according to the Evening Standard.

The study claims to “represent one of the most comprehensive attempts to assess the extent of CCTV use” and uses “complex calculations” based on available information. Calculations are made regarding the number of different types of property using surveillance cameras, average floor areas, and other data.

There are between 4.1 million and just over 5.9 million cameras in Britain, the BSIA study says, stressing that an exact number is impossible to determine. Previous reports dating back to 2006 and 2011 estimated the number to be as large as 4.2 million and as little as 1.85 million.

According to the research, cameras that are in public control include more than 10,000 CCTV units installed by the police and some 60,000 more controlled by local authorities across Britain.

The London Tube network alone has 13,000 cameras, with an average of 52 cameras per station. The study estimates that between 290,000 and 370,000 cameras are run by state schools.

But the majority of surveillance cameras in Britain are privately owned. The study claims that some 2.7 million CCTV cameras are owned by private businesses and individuals.

Reuters / Paul Hackett

The research found that the reasons surrounding the use of private cameras include the protection of property, crime detection, and safety. 

The study’s conclusions challenge the UK’s popular image as a “Big Brother” state, claiming that such notions are “misplaced.” Instead, its authors believe the lack of regulation governing privately run cameras is a bigger concern for Britain, and have called for establishing rules to enforce “better standards.”

But the overall number of cameras is likely to stir the heated debate surrounding the UK’s so-called “surveillance society,” just one year after the Protection of Freedoms Act was imposed and days after the introduction of a surveillance code of practice for public CCTV systems. Both legislations include the regulation of state cameras.

There are currently no rules governing the use of private CCTV cameras. However, surveillance camera commissioner Andrew Rennison recently hinted that the government may have to address the growing trend of homeowners setting up CCTV systems on their properties. Private surveillance cameras can cause “upset” to neighbors, Rennison told The Daily Telegraph.

Although the commissioner believes that people install cameras for “very good reasons,” he also said he is expecting to receive more “complaints from people about inappropriate use of CCTV.” He said that the highest number of complaints comes from people whose neighbors use private surveillance systems.

It is “an area where people do want further advice,” Rennison said, promising to publish information on the matter.

But any government attempt to regulate CCTV cameras in and outside of private homes in Britain would likely face opposition from campaigners who claim the devices are an important part of crime prevention.