There are estimates that there are 500,000 surveillance cameras around the city of London and that an average Londoner is seen on camera 300 times each day.
In fact, there is estimated to be more than 4 million surveillance cameras throughout the United Kingdom, with about 1.5 million closed circuit television cameras (CCTV) in city centers, train and subway stations, airports, and major retail areas .
However, despite spending billions of dollars on surveillance cameras, a recent report by the Police Chiefs of the United Kingdom concluded that only 3% of crimes were solved by CCTV.
So, what happened to make CCTV such a bad investment? Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville, the officer in charge of the Metropolitan police unit provides an answer in his speech at the Security Document World Conference in London as follows:
"CCTV was originally seen as a preventative measure. Billions of pounds have been spent on it, but no thought has gone into how the police are going to use the images and how they will be used in court. It's been an utter fiasco: There's no fear of CCTV. Why don't people fear it? They think the cameras are not working."
Of course, the security cameras are working but it is very expensive to hire CCTV operators that have to endlessly look at all those security screens. Placing security cameras in millions of locations is one thing. Monitoring all those locations at all times by human beings in real time is another thing indeed.
Spending billions on security without any real return in the United Kingdom has not stopped New York City from following in their path. More than 3,000 new public and privately-owned cameras will be in service in the city by the end of this year.
Meanwhile new advanced CCTV cameras which try to 'predict' if a crime is about to take place are now being introduced on Britain's streets. The cameras can alert operators to suspicious behaviour, such as loitering and unusually slow walking.
However, as seen through the experience in the United Kingdom, there is no evidence that expensive security cameras act as a crime deterrent. In addition, few crimes are actually solved due to the hard work involved in retrieving images from the system. Certainly, it is not money well spent, if the police are not properly trained and the system is not useful in the prevention of crime.
The truth is that all these expensive CCTV security cameras have not made us much safer. Our personal privacy concerns have not yet been realized. This is because CCTV can see but nobody is watching.