Smile, you're on 300 candid cameras . .
February 14 1999 BRITAIN 
Smile, you're on 300 candid cameras . . . 
   by Dipesh Gadher
   PRIVACY outside the home is almost extinct. The number of
   closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in Britain's public places
   has now passed 1m, according to industry figures.
   So dense is the network that in many urban areas people may be
   monitored from the moment they step out of their front door and be
   kept under observation on their way to work, in the office and even in
   a restaurant if they choose to dine out. Over the course of a day they
   could be filmed by 300 cameras.
   The increased use of such technology has been praised for reducing
   crime but some fear that the growing ease of surveillance will tempt
   the police and other agencies to invade privacy and infringe civil
   Its spread may, however, be unstoppable, especially because the price
   of the technology is falling sharply, enabling even private
   householders to install cameras. CCTV is often used in families by
   jealous spouses and by parents wanting to check the behaviour of their
   offspring or nannies.
   One of the most controversial uses for such cameras is by companies
   that want to spy on staff. In one recent case two workers at a City
   law firm were reprimanded after being filmed in an embrace at an
   office Christmas party. In another a Parcelforce employee was sacked
   after being captured on tape playing Frisbee during work hours.
   Barbara Morgan, director of the CCTV User Group, said: "There are more
   cameras here in proportion to the population than anywhere else,
   including the United States. The UK is the largest user of CCTV in the
   The latest figures show that, in cities, people are captured on film
   at least once every five minutes; the rate drops only slightly in
   smaller towns.
   Among the most "wired" towns are High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire,
   Bournemouth in Dorset and King's Lynn in Norfolk. There, the ratio of
   cameras to people is so high that nobody can escape being filmed
   unless they avoid shopping, refuse to dine out and never visit the
   cinema, theatre or nightclubs.
   The figures were calculated by Dr Clive Norris, a criminologist at
   Hull University who is to publish a book called The Maximum
   Surveillance Society. The latest manufacturers' figures show that
   460,000 CCTV cameras were sold in the past three years - in addition
   to the hundreds of thousands already installed and those whose sales
   were never recorded.
   Norris said: "A million cameras could be a conservative estimate. On
   an average day in London, or any other big city, an individual is
   filmed by more than 300 cameras from 30 different CCTV networks. The
   filming goes on throughout the day, and in some areas, such as the
   London Underground, it is constant."
   Britain's first CCTV system was installed 50 years ago at Guy's
   hospital in London. The industry is now worth more than -L-350m a
   BT has installed tiny cameras near phone boxes to catch hoaxers.
   Similar devices are now common around cash machines and have been used
   to catch those attempting credit card fraud.
   Even the ordinary cameras common on British high streets are capable
   of amazing feats. Many have zoom lenses powerful enough to read a
   newspaper headline at 100 yards.
   Others can be connected to computers with software capable of
   recognising vehicle number plates or the faces of criminals. Such a
   system, known as Mandrake, was installed on a trial basis in the
   London borough of Newham last October and is said to have reduced
   The use of CCTV in crime prevention is, however, no longer restricted
   to streets and shops. Jenny Brewer, of Melksham, Wiltshire, set up a
   hidden video camera to catch the person who had been vandalising her
   car. The culprit turned out to be her "friendly" neighbour Steve
   Jones, who pleaded guilty to criminal damage when he appeared in
   Norris argues that such uses will spread because the cost of CCTV kits
   is so low that they can now be found in DIY stores for less than
   Even diners hoping to enjoy an intimate night out in London's West End
   should stay on their guard.
   Mezzo, the 700-seat eatery owned by Sir Terence Conran, is just one of
   many restaurants that checks its guests. Ronald Loges, the general
   manager, said: "We have one camera near the front entrance to monitor
   people coming in." A potentially controversial application for CCTV is
   being pioneered by Virgin Megastores, where managers use cameras to
   monitor who their customers are and how they make their choices.
   Such uses alarm John Wadham, director of Liberty, the civil rights
   organisation, who said it illustrated the complete lack of regulation
   over CCTV surveillance.
   "In this country anyone can point a camera in any direction, record
   any material, copy it and give it to whoever they want," he said.
   "Nobody has control over that."
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