An estimated 5.9 million CCTV cameras were in operation throughout the UK in 2016, making the British public one of the most surveilled in the world. Only Beijing has more CCTV cameras than London, where the average person will be recorded on camera 300 times in one day.

The prevalence of public surveillance in the UK stems from a government push in the nineties, with then-Home Secretary Michael Howard contending in 1994 that “CCTV has a major part to play in helping detect, and reduce crimes and to convict criminals.”

Shortly after this, the CCTV Challenge Competition fund was launched to encourage local authorities to set up their own surveillance schemes. This led to £120m being invested in CCTV systems in the next three years, and eventual high street ubiquity. Footage recorded by CCTV cameras is now regularly used as evidence in court proceedings, leading to the apprehension of many criminals. 

How are CCTV cameras used in the UK?

CCTV surveillance is commonly used to observe public areas like car parks, town centres and housing estates. The cameras are monitored at a local monitoring station and if criminal activity is noticed, the operators can call for a direct police response. Many private businesses and individuals also own CCTV cameras to monitor their own properties.

The footage filmed by these CCTV cameras is also regularly used in both police investigations and court proceedings, and can often provide vital evidence that make the difference in a case. CCTV evidence has proven extremely helpful to authorities. A 2017 study from Nottingham Trent University found that CCTV proved useful to police in 65% of crime investigations. In cases where authorities deemed CCTV useful, the probability of crimes being solved rose substantially, from 23% to 48%. It has also been shown that Scotland Yard used CCTV cameras in 95% of murder incidents in 2009.

For instance, in the aftermath of the 7/7 London bombings, counter-terrorism police spotted the attackers within four days of the attacks using recordings from a CCTV camera. They worked backwards from the locations of the attacks to try and identify the movement of the potential attackers, before eventually isolating suspects walking through Kings Cross. They then identified them as the same individuals as those on driving licenses found at the scene of the bombing.

CCTV cameras also helped to apprehend many of those involved in the 2011 London riots. CCTV footage taken of the riots directly led to around 5000 arrests, after police trawled through over 200,000 hours of videos. A survey later found that more than a third of adults said their support for the use of CCTV had increased after the riots. 

Have CCTV cameras helped to deter crime?

It has been shown that CCTV can help to prevent crime being committed. CCTV is frequently cited as one of the most effective deterrents to crime and has proven to be particularly useful in reducing vehicle crime and theft, with the number of crime incidents decreasing by 51% in car parks that use CCTV surveillance.

When can CCTV footage be used in courts?
Since the widespread drive to install CCTV across the UK in the 1990s, security cameras have proven useful both as deterrent to crime, and in providing crucial evidence to authorities to help bring criminals to justice.

The majority of CCTV footage is taken by government owned surveillance cameras used in public spaces like shopping centres, bars and car parks. This kind of CCTV footage is OK to be used in courts, however, it is trickier with videos taken on a privately owned CCTV camera.

Private cameras must comply with The Data Protection Act (DPA), the legislation that governs the use of such systems, before they can be used for CCTV evidence in courts. If they do not, the footage recorded may be inadmissible. Some of the requirements that must be adhered to include:

  • The camera should not invade anyone else’s privacy.
  • There should be clear signs signalling that CCTV is in operation.
  • Owners can only use the recordings for the purpose recorded, e.g to protect their property, not to spy on others.

You are well within your rights to possess a private CCTV camera, but it’s important to be aware of other people’s rights as well as exercising your own. To ensure your cameras comply with the DPA, check the government’s surveillance camera code of practice.