For many years the British public has often been told that the United Kingdom has 4.2 million CCTV camerasâ€”that’s one for every fourteen residentsâ€”as widely quoted by politicians, various media, and even the police.
This statistic is rarely questioned, but thanks to a recent episode of the excellent More or Less (UK-only?) suggesting that this statistic was, at best, dubious, I decided to do some reading.
I didn’t have to read much.
The statistic comes from a 2002 report from the URBANEYE project, looking at the prevalence of video surveillance in London (pdf). From the Conclusion:
In our Putney sample, 41% of premises had CCTV systems in operation. These institutions had an average of 4.1 surveillance cameras. If we use these figures to extrapolate the extent of CCTV coverage in London and the country as a whole we come up with the following results. If we begin by assuming that the extent of CCTV coverage in Putney is broadly representative of CCTV coverage across the whole of London, we could estimate that 41% (102,910) of the 251,000 business registered for VAT in London would have a CCTV system. Between them these businesses will have 421,931 surveillance cameras. If we add to these the number of surveillance cameras operating in other public institutions (open-street systems, transport, hospital, schools etc.) it would not be unreasonable to ‘guesstimate’ that Londoners are monitored by at least 500,000 CCTV cameras. This means that in London (with a population of 7.2 million residents) there is approximately one camera for every fourteen people. From these figures we would suggest that in the UK (with a population of almost 60 million) there are at least 4,285,000 cameras in the UK.
The Putney sample was a paltry 211 premises. AndÂ Putney, as one of the 35 major areas in Greater London, is hardly representative of the UK as a whole. Even the CCTV User Group says the results are “extremely questionable”.
Returning from a trip to Europe, Nate Silverâ€”proprietor of the political analysis website FiveThirtyEightâ€”has promptly compiled a list of observations on London and Paris from an American point of view.
As an ‘insider’ it appears that I’ve take a lot of these gradual changes for granted, not really making any conclusions.
London, and the United Kingdom in general, has sort of become ground zero for what is known as libertarian paternalism, with all sorts of subtle nudges to influence behavior. For instance, cigarette packs now contain not only the phrase ‘smoking kills’ in prominent letters on the front side of the package, but also, a disgusting picture of rotted teeth on the backside (a practice which is somewhat reminiscent of an American PsyOps operation in Afghanistan). There is now a commuter tax to drive into the city. Tube maps contain firmly-worded admonishments to riders, advising them to avoid changing trains at busy stops like Covent Garden or Bank. Black cabs feature doors that lock and unlock automatically as the car begins to accelerate. The amount of liquor in a cocktail is strictly regulated (although this was true when I was there as well). Overall, one is generally more aware of the presence of government than one is in the United States, even though they have several freedoms over there (broader tolerance for things like gambling and gay marriage for instance) that we don’t have over here.
Walking through the London Underground I usually don’t give much thought to the designated busking areas. However, the scheme, started by Transport for London in 2003, is surprisingly involved, as I discovered after reading this profile of Mike Muttel, an Underground busker.
Muttel’s official busking license, good for one year, hangs visibly from a lanyard around his neck. It took six months of rigmarole to obtain that license, in which time he applied, auditioned for a panel of four or five London Underground staff members and agreed to a mandatory police background check. The process didn’t cost anything, but took talent, patience and a little luck (audition judges are not required to have backgrounds in music). Still, of the 400 buskers that audition each year, 80% pass. Now that heâ€™s in the system, Muttel is not required to re-audition; he just re-applies for his permit every year. He has been busking for almost three years. [â€¦]
Of the 28 or so total pitches at 21 Tube stops throughout central London, some argue there are really only half a dozen ideal spots: two at Green Park, two at Tottenham Court Road, one at Piccadilly Circus and one at Leicester Square. If a busker shows up late for a spot, the previous busker is entitled to stay for the next two-hour time slot. Unsurprisingly, this can get messy.
…Londoners on Income Support can get a card to allow travel on London buses and trams for half price. At the bottom of the [advertisement] are the proud logos of Mayor of London, Transport for London, and, incongruously, the Bolivarian Government of Venezuela.
I presume that this is the fruit of Hugo Chavez’ visit to London, when he cosied up to Mayor Ken, and offered cheap oil to the people of London.
From The Magistrate’s Blog