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Implications of cctv surveillance in society

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Computer Science
Wordcount: 3280 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Implications of CCTV Surveillance in Society


Surveillance as equated in the Oxford Dictionary; “Supervision, close observation, [and] invigilation of individuals who are not trusted to work or go about unwatched” (Fowler and Fowler 1964: 1302). Surveillance has become a part of society and seems to be everywhere. People are supervised by many different methods every day. Being a huge part of society, surveillance is continuously discussed in both the public and private sectors. Being such a widely debated topic in society today, the implications and complications it brings to the everyday life are only one of the main areas of focus in many discussions. This article concludes of how surveillance affect the society by looking at fewer aspects linked to surveillance. One of the reasons why surveillance causes implications in social life is because it is everywhere; the idea of surveillance is transformed from one simple idea of keeping an eye on ones not trusted to another as technology continued to develop further.

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When one thinks of surveillance, first thought that comes up would be CCTV (Close Circuit Television) because it is most common and well-known type of surveillance that is widely used, but surveillance goes a lot further then just CCTV. In fact, CCTV itself is a broad subject to consider for study. The following discussion is mainly based upon CCTV surveillance while taking a glance at different types of surveillance techniques and how they cause implications to social life of society


Surveillance is a broad topic and CCTV is not the only surveillance that is watching over the society, other techniques such as ‘Biometrics, Mobile Phones, and Phone tapping, Local Area Networks (LAN) and workplace surveillance also adds to the surveillance. It is believed though that it is CCTV in general that tends to concern society. This is mainly due to the number of CCTV cameras installed in town centres across the UK and the cost of having them and keeping them running, partially because the idea of being watched 24/7 leaves society a very little chance to socialize privately.

In January 2000, Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the expansion of CCTV network in England with the input of an enormous £150 million of public money (Parker, 2000). Before the expansion, there were already 1.3 million CCTV Cameras throughout the nation keeping an eye on society and public in restaurants, parks, streets, mall’s and other public places. Parker stated that the expansion was rising at the rate of 20% a year with the number of CCTV cameras watching us a year in the United Kingdom. A recent study obtained by London Liberal Democrat Justin Davenport due to the freedom of information act, the study showed that the average cost of keeping these cameras running is believed to be around £20 million per year and over the past decade. Over £200 Million has been spent on CCTV cameras in London only. The shocking factor that comes to mind is that this study was just based within the city of London. The total bulge sum of the whole nation would be significantly higher which is paid out from the taxpayer’s money. Another Research carried out by ‘London Evening Standards’ showed that up to 90 per cent of CCTV installations fail to comply with the Information Commissioner’s UK CCTV code of practice, yet they are still there keeping a watch over the city.

Obviously the reason given for this was to control crimes and vandalism across the nation, but as years passed. The cameras installed came to be used as trackers and to keep an eye on any suspicious characters within the society. Parker said that any average working men would be seen by over 300 cameras a day in any big city in the United Kingdom. Stated example of someone leaving home in the morning for work till they get back home in the evening is being used to support Parker’s example. But it doesn’t stop there, after being at home, any activities such as talking on the phone or surfing the web on the laptop or mobile phone would carry on being surveillance. This can be due to the security of the nation but knowing of being innocent and still being watched 24/7 would just feel “wrong”.

It is claimed that surveillance is there for security to reduce crime, to keep a watch over public places and for safer working environment in work places, it is there to keep track of a criminal or suspects or even to capture a crime-taking place. Nevertheless, as much as CCTV Surveillance claims to bring reduction to crime levels, there has not been definite evidence to support such claims. The reduction is there but may not be as high as claimed because it is easy to move out of sight of the “unforgiving eye”, and according to Professor Ditton of the Scottish Centre for criminology “closed CCTV camera system in town and city centres have failed to match their anti-crime expectations (Parker, 2000).

The term for surveillance being everywhere is known as ‘Routine surveillance’ which is a part of “residential areas, schools, road traffic, car park and petrol stations, telephone booth and cash machines, railway stations, retail and commercial, hospitals, stadiums and police surveillance” (Norris and Armstrong, 1999). Generally, Being under surveillance and being under watch would create unsecure feeling for any individual but Parker stated that “72% of the people do not object” but parker did not fail to mention that “the same amount of public are worried that the cameras could easily be abused in the hands of the wrong people”(Parker, 2000). A very notorious example of CCTV Technology being misused happened in London outside Harvey Nicholls store. The cameras are designed to go in close to observe suspicious characters and shoplifters but in this case, it was used to look closely at Lady Diana, Princess of Wales. The operator captured the footage while Lady Diana was leaving the store and the tape discovered later in a desk drawer. The footage was a close up shot of her appealing figure and the operator was lingering over her for almost over a minute (Norris & Armstrong). Such events like this would remind the society that the CCTV may be there for a good reason but its operator can never be trusted with all that power and reach. It is said in many comic books and movies that “with great power, comes great responsibility” (Spiderman, 2002; Stan Lee), and it’s events as such that discourages the society towards the idea of CCTV. Parker in ‘Total Surveillance, 2000’ has given many other similar examples.

CCTV is widely discouraged however events such as “Last moments of Lady Diana, Princess of Wales” were captured by CCTV has affected the attitudes and encouraged the belief of CCTV surveillance not be a bad thing after all. Small 2-minute footage of Lady Diana’s last moments was uploaded on You Tube (Probably the biggest Social Self Broadcasting website in the world) roughly in 2008. The footage has then been watched all over and across the world and showed on the news channels on TV. You Tube itself has had almost 300,000 views in less than two years of its upload date. When such tragic things happen to anyone, the footage that is recorded by the near CCTV camera becomes the last source of that person’s moments. The footage can then be looked at and analysed by the police for investigation to bring justice, but the same footage can also be the last sight of that person to be seen by their family.

CCTV Surveillance; first discovered in early nineteenth century (Holtzman, 2006) but since then, it has gone through a vast amount of improvements as seen in today’s CCTV cameras and systems. CCTV’s were mainly used by military and army forces but it was later on when CCTV made its entry within workplaces. It wasn’t till later when government decided to introduce them to keep an eye on society and public. In 2000, more than half of the UK workforce was being monitored at the highest levels, even places like rest rooms, cafe area and restaurants that are far away from the actual working area were under watch. Workplaces came under surveillance for many reasons such as ‘to protect the premises from vandalism, theft, drugs and physical abuse towards other employees and also to keep an eye on all the employees working’ to enable the employer to see what they are doing. Such environment and atmosphere can be illustrated as untrustworthy environment where there would be no such thing as trust. Later after CCTV, other surveillance techniques came within the working force, techniques such as; e-mail scanning, tapping telephone conversations, voicemail and computer file scanning, unseen Desktop surveillance that records individual workstation activities. If that was not already enough, companies started installing software to keep track of the internet usage by every individual employee. It would gather information such as websites visited, time spent on each website and the same would go for telephone conversations to what number and for how long. According to Parker, the reason organisations gave for taking away the remaining personal space while at work fell into following four categories;

To ensure employee health, safety and protection (from abuse or violence);

To guard against theft of goods, information and trade secrets;

To monitor employees’ performance, attitude and demeanour;

To gather evidence in support of court action arising out of any of the above three reasons.


The email scanning and communication surveillance came into action because information was being transmitted through emails, faxes and phone calls. Important documents started going missing and eventually it became efficient to have such systems available on workplaces for the good of the business. Such systems were first installed by banks and building societies due to their assets of information contained within about their customers. If such information was to end up in wrong hands then the company would have to pay the liability and to avoid being in such situations, companies took drastic measures. A very recent catastrophic event occurred on November 2009 within a leading mobile phone company ‘T-Mobile, where an employee stole vital customers data and sold it to rival networks in UK; the Guardian newspaper stated this even as “Employee Data Theft Leads To U.K.’s Largest Data Breach; The employee sold millions of customer records to data brokers”. It is events and crimes as such committed by few people in society that leads to generation of new laws. Laws today states that every organisation (big or small) is required to keep a record of CCTV and communication surveillance to and from business for minimum of 12 months in case of further requirement by officials and government authorities as evidence if required, (Lyon, 2002). It is acceptable that the entire span of communication is under surveillance for national security to locate and track any possessed threats but it is believed that almost 98% of communication made across the work is personal and private without conflicting any threat and it is only that 2% of communication that may possess a threat to the national security but that is maybe if not due to misunderstanding.

All the factors about communication surveillance are part of workplace surveillance and the mostly monitored factor would be electronic mail surveillance within workplaces. But added factors such as ID Cards and Biometric Surveillance are also part of workplace surveillance which tends to affect the privacy issues. Information about every employee that works at the firm would have to give their biometric details to their employer. This varies from finger prints, eye retina scan, internal nerve scan, palm scan and further more if the firm is working with higher valued assets and critical information. This is for the sake of security of both; the firm’s assets and employees. But having the control of the surveillance systems could determine the power relations in the workplace which could lead to being blackmailed and kept under pressure for the mistakes made. It is an advantage for having a system in place but it could be used for many other purposes such as finding out details about someone without being authorised.

Factors about CCTV Surveillance

A very well illustrated study carried out in the United States of America by Norris and Armstrong has showed and produced many different approaches made towards the surveillance of society. As people are being surveillance, they are being split into categories and Clive has shown them in very well illustrated tables in Chapter 6 of ‘The Maximum Surveillance Society; The Rise of CCTV’. As technology became more advance, the reach of CCTV went further which caused the split in public being watched over. Operators started concentrating on certain types of people within the society. Certain types of people were being watched over more than others. This could be due to the age, sex, attitude, attire or even skin colour. In Clive’s research, it is shown that “only 35% of white people were being surveillance for no obvious reason where as 68% of black population was being watched over for no obvious reason”. It is main factors like such and the cost of keeping the systems running that tends to cause implications within the society and public.


Being looked over all the time would conceive meaning of personal space and privacy being invaded while conserving any remaining personal space for socialising. As much as one wants a little bit of privacy, it would be hard to get in today’s informatics age. Every aspect and portable technology that public carries around such as mobile phones and portable computers are linked to the global network which can be or is being monitored and analysed 24/7. A very recently discovered spy base in North Yorkshire ‘THE MENWITH HILL SITE’ is known to be the biggest spy base in the world, it belongs to the Americans but very little is known about what happens at the base and what is being looked after. In a documentary ‘Counterblast: The death of Privacy’ in 2000 on BBC2 by Simon Davies. Davies discovered that all form of communication made (in the UK or the World is yet unknown) passes through the Menwith Hill after being analysed by computer for suspicious content. The same is believed today as very little is known about it but it is certain that there are dozens of comparable sites across the world that carries out such procedures for national security. (MI5, MI6 and any intelligence institutes are all categorised under “SPY”)

Other Surveillances

As the technology improved further over the years, the government had installed Auto Recognition Software features in most CCTV cameras across the nation, term today known as face recognition and other recognition type such as Number plate recognition on roads. The government had to pay a little price for implementing this features but it is the public that had to pay the bigger price for taking away their own privacy. Hence the system would help them keep track of anyone travelling from one point to another. The technology was developed to be used for public safety but now it has been prioritised towards the national security so public is being watched and analysed to look for any threats possessed.

Technology is now advancing onto implementation of a little device into human body that would carry every single detail about an individual. It would contain the financial data, health record and all the other details. This device has been tested and is already being used few countries and clubs (You tube) and not so long till it becomes essential requirement for everyone in the society.


It is fairly obvious to guess where the world is going with surveillance, the legislations, laws, and government are only adding to what’s already there without realising that whatever there is, it is quiet enough. At the rate the CCTV Surveillance is growing, it can be predicted that there will be a time where public will not go unnoticed by the watchful eyes of government and authorities. This is only going to cost more to the society and it will be the society that will have to pay the government to add the discomfort to the social lives. Government have to pay lower price for such implementation of technology and systems but it is the public that have to pay back twice as much by letting their personal privacy being taken away from them, which is the price that public pays. The more systems are being implemented, the more data gets stored and the information asset gets bigger by day, which if falls in wrong hands then the damage could be unimaginable.

The surveillance is always going to grow further with new technology and features and it is that particular idea of” having the power” that spoils even the nicest of human being intentions. It would be very hard to trust the reach and control of these systems but if safety is needed and required in society then these are the factors that have to be accepted without any exceptions. The answers are there but it’s up to the society if whether or not they want some of the privacy or nothing at all. Complete safety and no privacy or a little bit of both.


Davies, S. (2000) Counterblast The death of privacy, BBC2

Holtzman, D.H. (2002) Privacy Lost, How technology is endangering your privacy

Hosein, G. (2004) Privacy and or as Freedom

Introna, L.D. (2000) Workplace Surveillance, Privacy and Distributive Justice,

Computers and Society. University of Lancaster, UK

Lyon D. (2003) Surveillance as Social Sorting (Privacy, Risk and Digital Discrimination)

Lyon, D. (2002) EVERYDAY SURVEILLANCE, Personal data and social classifications

Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Norris, C. and Armstrong, G. (2000). The Maximum Surveillance Society. The Rise of CCTV

Parker, D. (2000) Total Surveillance

(Investigating the BIG Brother world of E-Spies, Eavesdropping and CCTV)

Rule, J. (1973), Private Lives and Public Surveillance.


T-Mobile confirms biggest phone customer data breach [WWW]

Available from:http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/nov/17/t-mobile-phone-data-privacy

THIS IS LONDON (2007) Most CCTV cameras are ‘illegal’, watchdog claims [WWW]

Available from:


THIS IS LONDON (2007) Tens of thousands of CCTV cameras, yet 80% of crime unsolved [WWW]

Available from:



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