The CCTV Trade-Off

That CCTV doesn’t substantially help in reducing crime has been shown beyond reasonable doubt, proposes Bruce Schneier, so now the pressing question is whether or not the benefits security cameras do afford are worthwhile.

There are exceptions, of course, and proponents of cameras can always cherry-pick examples to bolster their argument. These success stories are what convince us; our brains are wired to respond more strongly to anecdotes than to data. But the data are clear: CCTV cameras have minimal value in the fight against crime. […]

The important question isn’t whether cameras solve past crime or deter future crime; it’s whether they’re a good use of resources. They’re expensive, both in money and in their Orwellian effects on privacy and civil liberties. Their inevitable misuse is another cost. […] Though we might be willing to accept these downsides for a real increase in security, cameras don’t provide that.

In August 2009 Schneier discussed a report that showed only one crime per thousand cameras per year is solved because of CCTV and quotes David Davis MP saying that “CCTV leads to massive expense and minimum effectiveness. It creates a huge intrusion on privacy, yet provides little or no improvement in security.”

A Home Office study also concluded that cameras had done “virtually nothing” to cut crime (although they were effective in preventing vehicle crimes in car parks), but do “help communities feel safer” (a case of classic security theatre).



3 responses to “The CCTV Trade-Off”

  1. Paul

    The missing component is that CCTV feeds should be accessible by the monitored public, not just be special request under the Data Protection Act but to everyone – anyone – all the time.

    This would close the loop that the suspicion for many would-be criminals currently is that there’s no-one actually monitoring the screens apart from when BBC documentary crews come to visit their control centres.

  2. This sounds almost exactly like Internet Eyes: a UK company that signs up viewers “to watch live streams of CCTV cameras from shops and businesses and report anything they believe to be suspicious”.

    The incentive? “A monthly reward of £1,000 […] paid out to the person who reports the most crimes”.

  3. Ian

    The problem is that what one man finds suspicious is another man’s pleasure. Just imagine thousands of blockwarts everywhere.