What Is The True Cost Of CCTV?

The release of Big Brother Watch’s latest report, ‘The Price is Wrong – The cost of CCTV surveillance in the United Kingdom’ [1] reiterates that CCTV cameras are a massive waste of money. The report shows that local authorities in the UK spent nearly £315 million of taxpayers money on CCTV in just the last three years. Top of the surveillance spending chart is Birmingham Council who managed to pour £10,476,874 into spy cameras between 2007 and 2010!

CCTV top spenders 2007-2010 (‘The Price is Wrong’ report, Big Brother Watch)
Rank Council Total Spend
1 Birmingham £10,476,874.00
2 Sandwell £5,355,744.00
3 Leeds £3,839,675.00
4 City of Edinburgh £3,600,560.00
5 Hounslow £3,573,186.45
6 Lambeth £3,431,301.00
7 Manchester £3,347,310.00
8 Enfield £3,141,295.00
9 Barnet £3,119,020.00
10 Barking and Dagenham £3,090,000.00

Birmingham – hey big spender!

Birmingham City Council has been the subject of much CCTV controversy this year as it tried to sneak hundreds of CCTV and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras into leafy Birmingham suburbs as part of a project named ‘Project Champion’. Following a successful local campaign against the cameras [2] the council and the police have been back pedalling for months and it is expected that the decision to remove all of the cameras will be ratified at a 2nd December West Midlands Police Authority Meeting [3].

Birmingham Council is no stranger to wasting tax payers money – in 2009 it emerged that they had spent £2.8 million on a new website supplied by outsourcing firm Capita [4].

London – still the surveillance capital

At first glance it appears that Edinburgh is the surveillance spending capital of the UK but in reality it cannot compete with London which is made up of 32 boroughs and the City of London. Five of the top ten spenders are London Boroughs (with a combined total spend of £16,354,802.45) and it is no surprise that Hounslow, with its infamous ‘Promise Ten’ (“Introduce CCTV to more parts of the Borough”) [5] is at the top of the London Borough league. The City of London as well as the London Boroughs of Hackney, Havering, Kingston upon Thames, Newham, Southwark and Wandsworth all failed to respond to requests for information, violating their obligations under the Freedom of Information Act.

Yearly CCTV cost has doubled?

The headline figure of £315 million suggests that the yearly cost of CCTV has more than doubled to £105 million since the Surveillance Studies Network revealed that £500 million of public money was spent on cameras in the decade from 1995 to 2005 [6]. The Surveillance Studies Network also reported that during the 1990s approximately 78 per cent of the Home Office crime prevention budget was spent on installing CCTV.

The Surveillance Studies Network got their £500 million figure from a 2006 report ‘Closed-Circuit Television: A Review of Its Development and Its Implications for Privacy’, by Professor Clive Norris of Sheffield University [7]. Norris wrote:

Given that there was also substantial government investment in CCTV surveillance of schools, hospitals, and transportation facilities, it is not unreasonable to estimate that in the last 10 years, over £500 million of central and local government funds have been allocated to CCTV. However, this represents only a small fraction of total spending. The industry statistics for CCTV sales during the early part of the 1990s estimate the total value of the UK CCTV market at around £100 million annually, and this had risen to £361 million in 1998. By 2002, market analysts were reporting year-on-year growth of 14-18% and estimating that the market would be in the region of £600 million per annum between 2004 and 2008. On the basis of these figures, it can be estimated that during the decade 1995-2005, around £5 billion was spent on the installation of CCTV and maintenance of CCTV systems in the United Kingdom, and this excludes the monitoring costs associated with these systems.

What Norris highlights here is the enormous amount of money sloshing around the CCTV industry. The £500 million figure for 1995-2005 included central government funding and took into account cameras in schools, hospitals and transportation facilities which would also be funded with public money. In other words the £315 million is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg and it seems likely that the yearly cost of cameras has increased by more than a factor of two.

Tip of the iceberg

A glance at recent CCTV market reports also shows that the CCTV industry is still rubbing its hands with glee in the surveillance mad United Kingdom. Market research company RNCOS in their report ‘UK CCTV Market An Outlook (2005-2009)'[8] wrote:

Replacement systems, extensions and upgradation play key roles in the UK CCTV market that is poised for a 7% compound rate growth by 2009 to the tune of £700million, as opposed to £568million in 2004. CCTV market growth from 2006 to 2009 is expected to witness a significantly high demand for digital recording equipment.

Another market research company Market and Business Development (MBD), in a March press release [9] to accompany their 2010 ‘UK CCTV Market Research Report’, wrote:

In 2009, the value of the CCTV market increased by an estimated 1% to £1181 million, consolidating growth of 2% recorded in the previous year. Prior to that slightly stronger growth of 5% and 4% was recorded in 2006 and 2007 respectively.

MBD went on to predict that the 2012 Olympics will be a bumper pay day for the surveillance camera industry in the UK:

In the short-term, the CCTV market is expected to benefit from increased demand for public security generated by the London 2012 Olympics. The need to tighten security in public areas is also likely to boost demand from the Government and transport sectors.

One cannot but question whose “need” it is that security be tightened… But whoever’s “need” it may be, how much state and local government funding allocated to the Olympics will find its way into CCTV expansion?

The remarkable anomaly and choosing the right statistics

The Surveillance Studies Network, in a recent report [10] for the Information Commissioner’s Office, referred to the support for CCTV despite its ineffectiveness as “a remarkable anomaly”. The scale of this remarkable anomaly was illustrated by the 2008 Campbell Collaboration review of the effects of CCTV on crime [11] which found that, despite all of the millions spent, CCTV schemes in city and town centres, public housing and on public transport: “did not have a significant effect on crime” (page 19, emphasis added).

Supporters of CCTV, when faced with findings such as the Campbell Collaboration report are quick to say that statistics lie, but would they still be saying that if the statistics fitted their agenda? For a good example of this view we need look no further than a piece in the Herald, Scotland [12] in response to the Big Brother Watch report, by Pauline Nostrom, chairman of the CCTV section of the British Security Industry Association(BSIA). Nostrom writes:

When looking at its costs it is important to remember that you cannot put a price on life, and that quoted statistics can be misleading and do not represent the true value of employing CCTV systems.

A paragraph later and Nostrom throws off her aversion to statistics as she proclaims:

The Metropolitan Police say more than 70% of murder investigations have been solved with the help of CCTV retrievals and most serious crime investigations have a CCTV investigation strategy.

And another paragraph on Nostrom seems to have fully embraced the joy of statistics, as she says:

An operation by Safer Swansea, which saw a mobile CCTV vehicle rotated around five different parts of one village over one weekend, witnessed a 75% fall in calls from residents regarding anti-social behaviour.

So it’s all a matter of choosing the right statistics it seems. The 70% of murders solved figure can be found in a Metropolitan Police internal report entitled ‘CCTV in Homicide Investigations’ [13] that was released under the Freedom of Information Act. The study is just one page in length and far from a thorough evaluation of CCTV and murder, and it consists mostly of … er … statistics – with no reference to the research from whence they supposedly came.

CCTV’s impact on society

The Campbell Collaboration review was commissioned by the Home Office and the police, yet despite its findings policy-makers still seem to have an insatiable desire to introduce surveillance and curtail our freedoms.

Things are set to get worse unless something is done to halt this expansion – technologies such as behaviour recognition and face recognition will be added to the already appalling number plate recognition cameras that act as automated checkpoints around the country. All of this will be a massive pay day for the surveillance industrial complex and a further assault on the freedoms of honest, decent people.

The real cost of CCTV cannot be measured in millions of pounds or dollars or euros. The real cost is the cost to society of the erosion of trust that is engendered by the constant gaze of cameras, the loss of freedom that goes hand in hand with tracking of movements, the destruction of common law rights, anonymity and respect. Even if CCTV had no financial cost and did reduce crime, the costs to society would still be incurred and it is these costs that must drive our resistance to the spread of surveillance.

In 2007 a Professor of Ethics and Philosophy of Law, Jesper Ryberg started a debate in the journal ‘Res Publica’ comparing being watched by a CCTV camera with being watched by a lonely old lady. In 2008, Benjamin Goold wrote ‘The difference between lonely old ladies and CCTV cameras: a response to Jesper Ryberg’ [14] in which he pointed out that the impact of being watched by a lonely old lady cannot be compared with the dangers of the state’s use of surveillance cameras. Goold wrote:

the state has a monopoly on the use of legitimate force and can, under certain circumstances, deprive me of both my liberty and my property. As a consequence, we seek to limit the things that may be done by the state in an effort to protect individuals from the dangers that are attendant with the existence of such power.

It is time to limit the state’s surveillance powers – before the cost to society can no longer be borne.

Endnotes:

For more info see www.no-cctv.org.uk

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  • Ironaddict06

    This is a bit off topic regarding the UK, but it does involve CCTV.
    In Houston, Texas the voters-voted to get rid of red light cameras. But the company that owns the red light cameras said it is illegal to get rid of the red light cameras because the city of Houston signed a contract through 2014. So the red light cameras stay up-for now.
    Damn the voters.

  • Ironaddict06

    This is a bit off topic regarding the UK, but it does involve CCTV.
    In Houston, Texas the voters-voted to get rid of red light cameras. But the company that owns the red light cameras said it is illegal to get rid of the red light cameras because the city of Houston signed a contract through 2014. So the red light cameras stay up-for now.
    Damn the voters.

    • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

      Too bad the company doesn’t have a black CEO…they’d have kicked in his door, kicked out his teeth, obtained his written confession, tried him and fried him by now.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    I very much liked the format–show people what they’re pissing away in dollars and cents (or in this case, pounds and pence). Hopefully that’ll wake up the rubes who aren’t swayed by the perhaps more salient points of civil liberties.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    I very much liked the format–show people what they’re pissing away in dollars and cents (or in this case, pounds and pence). Hopefully that’ll wake up the rubes who aren’t swayed by the perhaps more salient points of civil liberties.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    Too bad the company doesn’t have a black CEO…they’d have kicked in his door, kicked out his teeth, obtained his written confession, tried him and fried him by now.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    Hope those millions of pounds were well spent on the now total ability to observe the occasional spotty, speccy teen picking his nose on the corner while waiting for the bus in an unauthorized and clearly inappropriate fashion.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    Hope those millions of pounds were well spent on the now total ability to observe the occasional spotty, speccy teen picking his nose on the corner while waiting for the bus in an unauthorized and clearly inappropriate fashion.

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