The U.K. is infamous for its "ring of steel," a large array of closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV) in London designed to offer security to the city by surveilling its streets and alleys 24 hours a day. But a new report indicates that the ever watchful electronic eyes may be having the opposite effect.
"Fortress Britain" is a report by British researchers Anna Minton and Jody Aked that claims the ubiquitous cameras watching over London not only fail to offer feelings of increased security, but actually engender a bit of anxiety. The preview of the report also references an earlier study that claims areas equipped with CCTVs have failed to show significant decreases in crime compared to areas without CCTVs.
The culture of CCTVs in the U.K. has even permeated popular culture. On U.K. police television dramas like Prime Suspect and Luther, the crime solving detectives are often shown immediately referring to CCTV footage to catch the criminal, rather than engaging in CSI-style clue collecting. However, the CCTV phenomenon may soon become a part of many U.S. cities. In New York, the police department set up its own ring of steel last year after years of consultation with authorities supervising the London CCTV system. Perhaps even more worrying, a recent U.S. court case granted police the right to position hidden surveillance cameras on private property without a search warrant.
According to Minton's study, part of the anxiety surrounding CCTVs is related to a feeling that technology is being used as a replacement for on-the-ground community support. One of Minton's survey respondents said, "The physical security measures, such as gating, intercom systems, CCTV, have increased, and the eyes on the ground have been removed. There's more CCTV, less manpower." The study will be published on November 1 by the New Economics Foundation.