Tag Archives: privacy

CCTV Prevalence in Britain

For many years the British public has often been told that the United Kingdom has 4.2 million CCTV cameras—that’s one for every fourteen residents—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. And 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”.

Privacy Salience and Social Networking Sites

Privacy could become a competitive feature of social networking sites, suggests Bruce Schneier in an article that looks at the interesting topic of privacy salience: the suggestion that privacy reassurances make people more, not less, concerned.

Privacy salience does a lot to explain social networking sites and their attitudes towards privacy. From a business perspective, social networking sites don’t want their members to exercise their privacy rights very much. They want members to be comfortable disclosing a lot of data about themselves.

[…] Users care about privacy, but don’t really think about it day to day. The social networking sites don’t want to remind users about privacy, even if they talk about it positively, because any reminder will result in users remembering their privacy fears and becoming more cautious about sharing personal data. But the sites also need to reassure those “privacy fundamentalists” for whom privacy is always salient, so they have very strong pro-privacy rhetoric for those who take the time to search them out. The two different marketing messages are for two different audiences.