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CCTV is considered by some to be a cheaper and more effective way of reducing urban crime than paying for police officers to patrol the streets. However, the public feel safer if police officers are on the streets and do not like their daily lives being recorded by so many cameras. Using existing literature and data, critically evaluate this claim in relation to the following areas: • Cost •Privacy • Terrorism
The advent of new technology offers a new method of crime prevention other than patrolling police officers. The safety and security department of the state have launched advanced equipment that aims to detect crimes before they even happen. Surveillance cameras like the closed-circuit televisions (CCTV) aim to reduce crime rate- especially in urban areas. Some people argue that CCTVs are more effective and cheaper method of reducing crime than hiring police officers who will monitor the streets. However, this claim receives a lot of opposition as the public feels more safe in the presence of officers in uniform. Furthermore, they do not want their every movement to be recorded by several cameras. In line with this differing views, this paper will analyse the arguments of the opposing parties and shed light on the effectiveness of surveillance cameras. Lastly, this project aims to prove that CCTV has no capability to stop crime and terrorism; instead, it robs off the privacy of ordinary citizens.
CCTV does so little in reducing crime rate in urban areas. While there is massive number of CCTVs installed in every busy street of America and other countries, statistics show that the number of crimes are still increasing. At present, the city of Manhattan alone have 3000 surveillance cameras that promise to help the police department to easily identify criminals. This initiative of the federal government of New York is triggered by the Boston bombing where the perpetuators were easily arrested because their faces were recognized by the CCTV installed in the area. On the other hand, London tops the list with 500, 000 camera systems that they are already considered as the “most spied-on city in the world.” (Evans 2012) The entire Britain have 4.2 million CCTVs that monitor every corner, but this number is only a lower estimate since the actual number will not be calculated. This is because there are no official registrations and extensive research that would help calculate the exact number of cameras installed in the whole country.
However, the high number of CCTVs installed in public streets and crowded areas did not stop criminals from doing mischief. According to a recent report, there's been little or no change in London's crime rates since they were more widely installed in the mid 1980s.” (Evans 2012) While there is an existing belief that surveillance cameras reduce a country’s or a city’s crime rate, there is no evidence to support this perspective. According to Emma Carr of the civil liberty group “Big Brother Watch,” reports from the police reveal that for every 1,000 surveillance cameras, there is only one crime solved. These numbers prove that cameras have very little potential of solving crimes. Furthermore, it implies that CCTVs are only beneficial in the investigation of a crime that has already happened. Since they only record the scene, they are not effective in preventing a crime from happening. Thus, hiring additional police officers to monitor the busy streets is still the best method of crime prevention since their presence and numbers will discourage individuals from committing crimes.
High-speed cameras with facial recognition feature are not reliable enough to detect intentions of terrorist attacks. Surveillance technology firms have manufactured devices which they claim to detect suspicious behavior and recognize people and the objects they carry. For instance, the American Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground stationed in Maryland develops a software that record the detailed features of a person seen on picture or video. The software can also detect posture and movements that are linked to terrorist behavior such as throwing bombs. According to the scientists, the advanced facial-object recognition system can identify a person from a crowd who carries a hidden package of explosives. But this claim remains just an expectation. Recent statistics reveal that surveillance technology have failed to identify the faces of terrorists whose names appear on the federal list. “Surveillance cameras don't necessarily deter serious crimes. Boston's numerous cameras didn't stop the crime at the Boston Marathon, nor did London's more extensive network of cameras deter the 2005 subway bombings.” (Richards 2013)
CCTV poses another concern- it threatens the privacy of the public. It defies the ideals of a democratic state where citizens are free to enjoy their personal lives without anyone disrupting, bothering or simply watching their actions. Surveillance technology puts the citizens’ family and private life at risk. Although, more security is an adequate response to recent bombings and terrorist attacks, CCTV s do not add more security. It only grant the police heavy powers and control over civilians. Existing surveillance systems do not only have the ability to monitor the actions of people. It can also track and record every movement ultimately saving it in the national database. This could result to unlawful access and disclosure of confidential information. For instance, Boston have installed high speed cameras in their main screes that detect if a car is insured or not, if it is stolen or if it is not registered. Each year, these cameras scan thousands of license plates. However, the high speed camera is not only a licensed plate reader that check the car or the legal history of the owner. What is more alarming is that it precisely records the location of every vehicle in real time. This super surveillance causes the citizens to fear about losing their privacy and becoming victims of unlawful acts of some police officers. It is a reality that some people will use the power of surveillance cameras in order to fulfill their dark intentions and gain control over someelse’s life.
While it is true that CCTV s can help recognize the facial features and other physical attributes of a suspected criminal, it also threatens the privacy of citizens. The existing face recognition technology, high-speed cameras and spy cameras would definitely give more power to government officials. Some of these officials may use this increased power to discriminate or blackmail ordinary citizens. Closed-circuit televisions are potentially destructive of people’s privacy. “Certainly, concerns exist about the use of CCTV as it impacts upon privacy and its potential abuse8 in the fight against crime, especially because some police departments now use community volunteers to view the CCTV monitors in a cost-saving initiative.” (Beckley 2004)
The emergence of millions of CCTVs promise more security, but in order to fulfill this promise it invades the privacy of civilians. Obviously, some people will abuse the power of technology to monitor and track the private lives of other people. Surveillance cameras have the potential to harm the citizens and make them vulnerable victims of intrusion. Surveillance systems opens the fact that more CCTVs means lesser privacy. “History has shown repeatedly that broad government surveillance powers inevitably get abused, whether by the Gestapo, the Stasi, or our own FBI, which engaged in unlawful surveillance (and blackmail) of "dangerous" people like Martin Luther King Jr.” (Richards, 2013)
CCTV gives the government an increased power to investigate the lives of civilians while hurting their privacy. They might use this power to fulfill their own selfish interests and attain financial gains. Shawna Russo discusses this issue and analyses the effectiveness of CCTV surveillance as a measure for counter-terrorism. She cites that the law enforcement officers in Birmingham have installed car license plate readers that are useless. She adds that the elected representatives have lied to the public during the council meeting by stating that the purpose of such cameras is to prevent crime. “It was only after the Guardian published their story about the funding for the cameras coming from a counter-terrorism fund (and residents subsequently realized they were being lied to) that Birmingham Police decided to cover up the public cameras and admitted they "hadn't been clear" about the purpose of the cameras.” (Russo 2010) This revelation questions the credibility of some officials and opens the issue that their purpose of installing cameras is to have financial gains rather than to promote public safety.
“Less privacy, less civil liberties. Being constantly observed might make us feel slightly safer, but this would be only an illusion of safety.” (Richards 2013) Of course, it is a recognized principle that CCTVs play a part in solving crimes. They are helpful in easily identifying suspects and the recorded video is an important an strong evidence that can be used during court trials. But these cameras will not make the people to quickly identify persons who have dark intentions before a crime happens. There is no documented proof that CCTV can warn the public about the presence of a criminal.
The current surveillance cameras are not very effective in reducing crime rate. The high speed cameras in Boston for instance are not helpful in detecting terrorists. ”Assuming that the purpose of surveilling a high-risk population is to be able to pick terrororists out of a crowd, ANPR cameras that are manufactured to photograph license plates do not have the capability to properly photograph faces, then identify that person through ID photographs in a database.” (Russo 2010) More CCTVs in public areas do not make the citizens a lot safer. More police officers in public areas is still the best solution to discourage crime perpetrators from fulfilling their dark plans. Lastly, the public should not remain passive regarding the issue on high-tech surveillance technology. They must oppose the “super surveillance system,” before other people abuses its power.
Evans, I., 2012. Report: London no safer for all its CCTV cameras. Christian Science Monitor.
Beckley, A. 2004, The future of privacy in law enforcement. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin.
Richards, N., 2013. Surveillance state no answer to terror. Available from: <http://edition.cnn.com/2013/04/23/opinion/richards-surveillance-state/index. html?ii%20d=article_sidebar>. [7 April 2015)
Dailey, K., 2013. The rise of CCTV surveillance in the US. Available from: <http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-22274770>. [4 April 2015)
Russo, S., 2010. Effectiveness of CCTV Surveillance as Counter-Terrorism. Available from: <http://thebreakthrough.org/generation_archive/effectiveness_of_cctv_surveil l>. [3 April 2015]
Ayres-Deets, A., 2013. Boston Bombing: Increased Surveillance Will Not Prevent Terrorist Attacks. Available from: <http://mic.com/articles/36939/boston-bombing-increased-surveillance-will-no t-prevent-terrorist-attacks>. [3 April 2015]
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