Media Solutions Manager, UBM

Author Bio ▼

Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today (SMT) in November 2000. In 2005, he received the BSIA Chairman's Award for Promoting The Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was nominated for the ASC's Imbert Prize and was a finalist in the 2012 George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute and a judge for numerous industry awards, Brian became the Editor of SMT Online in late 2008 and was also promoted to Group Content Editor for UBM Live's Security Portfolio (focusing on the IFSEC SELECT end user programme, the Security Excellence Awards, conferences and webinars). Now the Media Solutions Manager for UBM Live's Security and Fire Portfolio, Brian is actively pioneering developments in live events and digital media.
July 22, 2013

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UK CCTV: Why We Need More Regulation

Do you recall that statistic devised by academics McCahill and Norris in 2002? The one that said the UK is overlooked by 4.2 million CCTV cameras?

Much of Britain has been fixated on this number ever since (a figure derived by counting those cameras present on Putney High Street in London and extrapolating upwards for a ‘guesstimate’). We’ve been consistently bombarded with hypotheses on the supposed rise of the “Surveillance State” and George Orwell’s Big Brother coming to life ever since.

Now, the British Security Industry Association (BSIA) has produced its own set of statistics. In a report entitled “The Picture Is Not Clear: How Many CCTV Surveillance Cameras Are There in the UK?”, the Trade Association has made a thoroughly detailed attempt to unearth current numbers.

The BSIA’s 51-page document focuses on the number of properties in the UK, floor area, and “alternative appropriate estimates”. It accounts for the number of CCTV cameras located in (for example) offices, factories, warehouses, schools, department stores, car parks, and railway stations, and those deployed for “security surveillance, related monitoring and safety aspects”. Low-, medium-, and upper-level camera figures for the UK are tabulated.

The BSIA’s minimum overall estimate for CCTV camera numbers is 4,059,000. Not far off the McCahill-Norris statistic. The mid-range calculation stands at 4,895,000 (said to be a “more accurate” representation of camera numbers) while the peak for the higher range number of cameras totals 5,935,000 (but it’s “very unlikely” the actual number of cameras is this high).

Looking beyond the statistics
According to the BSIA, camera numbers in the private sector could be outweighing those operated by the police and local authorities by a factor of somewhere around 70:1.

So the vast majority of cameras are privately owned and operated — very much contrary to popular opinion that we’re all living in a “Surveillance State”.

Private-sector companies are bankrolling the majority of the nation’s CCTV cameras because they deliver a clear ROI. These cameras are not directly available to the government and the police — they’re monitoring and protecting businesses — but they’re often called upon to yield evidential images. That being the case, strict regulation in the private sector for CCTV becomes vital.

Parliament has made a pleasing start to regulating CCTV and its operation, not least through the auspices of the Security Industry Authority and its own Public Space Surveillance licensing regime.

Is it, though, addressing what many commentators believe to be the central challenge — the extent of camera proliferation in the private sector and the need for it to be closely monitored?

As stated, evidence to help solve cases of criminality unearthed by the police service often comes from cameras stationed in the private sector, but how many times have we heard about “less than perfect” installations or accusations of generally poor CCTV management?

Are CCTV systems meeting end user needs?
The BSIA’s present mantra — that further regulation of private-sector CCTV is absolutely necessary — is to be roundly applauded.

Leaving the camera numbers to one side for now, the important issues on which this latest report touches include the following:

  • Are CCTV systems genuinely “fit for purpose” (i.e. are they fully operational and recording properly)?
  • Do surveillance solutions meet the needs of their end-users (around image quality, for example)?
  • Are CCTV solutions installed correctly and covering the right areas?

Increasingly, more companies wish their premises to be protected by CCTV, but, at the very same time, more non-specialist installers are entering the fray and itching to grab a slice of the commercial action.

Those installers may not be up-to-date with best-practice techniques, so guidance is required. That’s why, as the BSIA succinctly puts it: “There’s a need for regulation of the minimum standard of system design, installation, and image quality.”

Such regulation will ensure the private sector provides the highest-quality video evidence possible for use by the police and the courts. A situation that’s very much for the public good.

We must never lose sight of that need, or the monumental importance of public support for CCTV.

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Trade CertificatesbatyeRobert GrossmanRob RatcliffPeterCaulf Recent comment authors
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n3td3v
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n3td3v

I’ve been bringing this up for months. I’m glad the BSIA and Brian Sims are now highlighting the issue.

Andrew Wallace @n3td3v on Twitter.

darrenMolton
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darrenMolton

According to studies, it was revealed that a growing number of publicly accessible spaces have CCTV systems that are often not well-notified. Although the majority of people are mostly uninformed about CCTV and the inherent privacy issues, the majority of them support CCTV as a means of crime deterrence. The series of conducted studies also examines the legal framework that regulates CCTV use in Europe.

Rob Ratcliff
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Rob Ratcliff

You use the word ‘although’, I almost wonder if ‘because’ would be a better choice of word. Would the public support CCTV use if they realised how lightly regulated private systems are? The main piece of applicable legislation is the data protection act, but I doubt most of the public would realise that.

gbrown
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gbrown

I agree that we need regulation, however if this will not call for unnecessary regulations around CCTV

SunitaT
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SunitaT

@Brian, thanks for the post. In my opinion CCTV surveillance system should have strong regulation about its installation and use. There should be separate team of Police who should check regular basis on each and every CCTV camera.

Rob Ratcliff
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Rob Ratcliff

Seems ambitious when police forces are stretched already. I suspect self-regulation, which in my view is a flawed model, would be the only one we’re likely to see.

Tony Dobson
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Tony Dobson

I’m going to state an alternative view, just because I can! Hopefully it will generate some discussion! I’m not quite saying that increased regulation would be a bad thing, far from it but I think the regulation should be on the specifiers/installers rather than the system and it should be all about the customer. When I was a customer, I have had CCTV systems in the past that have failed with not enough justification to repair/replace. I’ve just left them in place for their deterrent value and they have still stopped crime for several years. I have also had ageing… Read more »

MJ54
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MJ54

Sorry Tony, I have to totally disagree with your comment about leaving CCTV cameras in place that were no longer working as you say they provide a deterrent.  If I were a data subject working in that area and seeing the signs saying ‘CCTV in place’ I would expect them to be working, as if I was a victim of crime I would be horrified to find out that the cameras had not captured any images.  Giving data subjects a false representation that cameras were working, when they were not, might, in this litigious society, lead to a claim?  For… Read more »

PeterCaulf
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PeterCaulf

Oh please, don’t tell me that the public has been reduced to being mere “Data Subjects?”
If you mean “People,” say “people.”

PeterCaulf
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PeterCaulf

One issue that is often overlooked is that there is no regulation or legislation that covers the use of domestic CCTV. Every citizen has the right to protect his property, be it his garden shed or his car, parked outside his house, on the public highway and currently the law has no control over this, which I believe to be perfectly right. However, there needs to some legislation to prevent snooping on neighbours or maybe on adjacent public parks. I’ve heard of instances when councils or police have instructed householders to remove cameras because they also catch passers by, or overlook… Read more »

Rob Ratcliff
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Rob Ratcliff

Data subjects does seem like an odd turn of phrase, I must say. Something Data or Spock from Star Trek would say.

Tony Dobson
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Tony Dobson

I certainly didn’t expect everyone to agree! So ….. faulty cameras ….. do I pay to have them removed from site or pay to put up signs saying “CCTV NOT in operation”? Or leave them in situ so they continue to deter crime at my site? I know which option I would choose. Although I would never actually install dummy cameras of course as you have to have the history within the criminal fraternity of response to activations. It is inevitable that after a few months, or years if you are lucky, a crime will occur and then this gives… Read more »

Rob Ratcliff
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Rob Ratcliff

I almost wonder if you had a sign saying ‘CCTV NOT in operation’ and it was, would that be a misleading breach of privacy. I’m no expert on privacy restrictions so no idea, but it’s an interesting conundrum.

Rob Ratcliff
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Rob Ratcliff

Well, indeed, the litigious society thing is spot on. A good friend of mine was the victim of an assault underneath a public camera that wasn’t switched on and he did indeed receive a payout. But, a private organisation, I would argue is not necessarily going to be expected to have working surveillance cameras in the same way a public body is. I wouldn’t like to place any bets, but I’m sure that sueing a private organisation for having ‘dummy’ cameras would be harder than public. Not saying it wouldn’t be successful, but it’s a more difficult case.

Rob Ratcliff
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Rob Ratcliff

In part I agree, Tony, that established systems should not be subject to new regulation. Any regulation should I think only apply to new systems installed after it’s passed. However, I don’t think we’ll see new regulation… at least not for a hell of a long time. It’s just not the way this Government works.

MJ54
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MJ54

I totally agree with additional, but robust, regulation for CCTV, as the current legislation in place does little to rectify or improve poor quality images, badly maintained camera systems, or in some cases poorly trained CCTV operators.  A few years ago an article in SMT magazine said that over 80% of CCTV images were inadmissible as evidence in court due to their poor quality, a lack of detail, or the fact that they had been stored or copied badly. Too often police, or other prosecuting bodies, find the CCTV images that are recorded do not match up to the evidential… Read more »

Rob Ratcliff
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Rob Ratcliff

On your last point, I just wrote in another comment that I suspect we’re most likely to see self-regulation as a model — that’s what the CCTV Code of Practice is going to be employing, which affects only public bodies surveillance systems.

Rob Ratcliff
Guest
Rob Ratcliff

On the first point, 80% of images inadmissable is a shocking statistic. It raises the question of ‘why invest in having a surveillance system if it’s evidence is inadmissable?’ The answer though would be in how important that is to you. Is prosecutions what you’re after or a general deterrant?

batye
Guest
batye

good point, Rob in Canadian courts we do have similar problems… I think it would be sensible for a gov. to create better laws and proper regulations… but this days everyone in gov. Have they own agenda… creating more regulations… but not a solution to the problem…

Robert Grossman
Guest
Robert Grossman

If the problem is sub-standard systems and camera coverage, is regulation really the answer? I agree that there should be competency requirements for firms that sell and install such systems, much like you want a competent plumber or electrician and consequently those are licensed professions. But much like the person who wants to save some money will hire an unlicensed “handyman” to do electrical work or plumbing, there are always going to be fly-by-night operators (in the US we call them “trunk slammers”) who will do low-end work for a low end price. The fact that cameras, effective or not,… Read more »

Robert Grossman
Guest
Robert Grossman

If the problem is sub-standard systems and camera coverage, is regulation really the answer? I agree that there should be competency requirements for firms that sell and install such systems, much like you want a competent plumber or electrician and consequently those are licensed professions. But much like the person who wants to save some money will hire an unlicensed “handyman” to do electrical work or plumbing, there are always going to be fly-by-night operators (in the US we call them “trunk slammers”) who will do low-end work for a low end price. The fact that cameras, effective or not,… Read more »

Trade Certificates
Guest

Working on the London Underground and also on a few shopping centres the cctv is installed is really not upto scratch and should be upgraded, the problem is the government don’t want to pay for the electricians to scome back in and install overpriced in expensive cameras again sadly this is what usually happens in government schemes
http://tradecertificates.co.uk

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