Surveillance and Society in the United Kingdom

Subject: Tech & Engineering
Pages: 15
Words: 4395
Reading time:
16 min
Study level: Undergraduate


The use of CCTV surveillance has become commonplace in the United Kingdom. Hardly can citizens and tourists move through several blocs without being recorded by several cameras. Fact that these cameras have found their way into private properties is causing much worry to members of the public whose every move is being watched by people they do not know. In addition, the proliferation of CCTV all over the countries is leading to questions regarding the system’s effectiveness in reducing crime rates. As a contribution to the emerging debate, this paper shall research on effects of CCTV on UK society. Though the study itself is yet to begin, subsequent sections of this proposal will offer guidelines on research methods to be used, a literature review on past studies, and a preliminary hypothesis on this important topic. The purpose of this study is to investigate three social issues regarding CCTV surveillance, public safety, and concerns. First, the study will evaluate the effectiveness of CCTV has achieved the intended goals. This shall be done by collating the number of surveillance cameras with the number of crimes within the same community. In addition, the study shall look at the progress that had been made nationally in terms of crime rates in the country and the increased annual CCTV surveillance expenses in security budgets. Secondly, the study would investigate public sentiments on CCTV surveillance. The understanding of public sentiments would help in understanding the real impact that this system is having on citizens other than improving security by reducing crime. Thirdly, the study would investigate security officials’ views on the system. The findings of the three segments would then be combined into a final report.

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Technologies applied in CCTV Surveillance

The process of undertaking surveillance using CCTV technology requires the integration of several technologies. Indeed, the UK has been integrating different technologies in upgrading the country’s widespread CCTV network. This section shall concentrate on investigating the kinds of equipment used in this surveillance method. This shall be done by following the process of getting data, transmitting, saving, and using utilizing the data; a process that takes four stages that are described below:

Collecting data

In this first stage, video recording technologies are used to get real-time information on the ground and are done through the use of video cameras. Several cameras are used in the same location to get various angles. Video equipment that is located in the open is usually covered with weatherproof covers that protect against adverse conditions. In addition, the equipment in the open is well mounted to avoid being damaged by members of the public. Some equipment is mounted high on the buildings. In addition, the cameras located inside and outside buildings are mounted in such a way that individuals causing destruction are easily captured. The video cameras are also equipped with lighting that enables the capturing of data at night.


The data collected by the cameras are transmitted live to central data collection centers. This is done through the use of regular communication media such as cables, satellites. However, the entry of fiber optic cables in the communication industry has resulted in their use in surveillance activities. This is because of their ability to transmit huge amounts of data at a go, which is a good thing considering the amount of information that is increasingly getting collected through these means. In addition, the need to process information quickly and in real-time has contributed to the desire of authorities to use high-speed connections in their surveillance activities.


The huge amounts of data collected are saved in large computer serves in central locations that are spread all over the country. Authorities that collect the data are responsible for these storage locations. The huge technological demands that are placed upon these authorities lead have resulted in the hiring of private companies to handle data storage and equipment maintenance for the authorities (Coleman & Sim, 2000, p. ). Authorities are therefore assured of having their information being taken care of by well-qualified personnel. In addition, the tactic serves authorities well because they can concentrate on other important matters of keeping peace and order in public places. Other than storage technologies that are applied in the system, authorities are provided with computers and software that help in accessing and analyzing information.

Internet communication is used in the process of accessing, analyzing, and sharing information between officials. It, therefore, becomes possible for members of the surveillance team to collaborate between themselves, and with it speed up the process of analyzing information and providing results to members of the public. The efficiency that comes with all these technologies has made surveillance a key component of keeping law and order in the society. Success that has been achieved by the use of modern technologies in la maintenance processes has therefore resulted to the reduction of members of police force on UK streets. One area that has seen serious reduction in personnel reliance is traffic police departments, reason being that cameras have been providing more accurate assessments on overspending or skipping street lights. This has resulted to stakeholders agreeing that CCTV surveillance has been successful in meeting goals in traffic matters, unlike in other applications that it has failed miserably.

Governing Regulations

The United Kingdom lacks enough proper laws to govern the use of CCTV public spaces because the technology has for many years been used by government authorities. However, the rising use of the technology by many households has led to demands that the country adopt laws that would regulate its use (Painter, Tilley 1998). Improvement of CCTV technology has throughout generations resulted to increase in its use by many households in the country. In fact, CCTV systems have been replacing hum labour as the most efficient way of maintaining order in public places. This could explain why security authorities have been using most of their allocation in CCTV fixtures.

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The increased use of CCTV surveillance equipment by members of the public is raising concern civil liberty groups. One reason for this has been the question on what individuals will do with the information collected with their equipments. The main problem with civil rights movements is that CCTV equipment is not being used in people’s private properties but on public places. For instance, people use the equipment to overlook walk paths parks and other public areas close to their properties. Civil liberty groups thus argue that individuals are not justified to use the equipment. Coming from groups that preach greater respect for individual freedom to do what is desired, the arguments carry lots of weight and should be considered.

Respective legislative bodies and national level should thus consider the implication of the increased use of CCTV technology by members of the public. However, this call does not mean dropping the use of technology completely, but development of mechanism by which the public can use and disseminate the collected information. Among others, laws governing the period by which members of the public should keep the collected data should be developed and implemented. For instance, private individuals should be required to destroy the collected information on a regular basis. This will reduce chances of members of the public from keeping other people’s information for longer periods of time and thus leave the public well assured of their privacy. In addition, laws governing on the locations that should be video taped using CCTV technologies should be developed. For instance, member of the public using the technology should be bared from collecting data on public places; this should be reserved to authorities. Instead, individuals will only be required to collect data only on their private properties.

CCTV and Society

Though CCTV is targeted at improving security of the public, citizens have increasingly been worried by how their information gets used by authorities. One of the worries among the citizenry is the big brother mentality among the citizenry. Citizens feel as if they are being watched at all times as they go along with their day-to-day activities. Indeed, the ever increasing the number of CCTV equipments in public and private places is intimidating to member of the public. This has resulted to loss of privacy in the population, which is a blow to the society, meaning that people end up suffering in the process of making them more secure. Secondly, having cameral all over the streets, in public places and private locations has the possibility of creating false sense of security. Indeed, people might tend to think they are secure because there are cameras watching on those who might intend to cause harm. Unfortunately, it is expensive for authorities to employ individuals to be watching monitors at all times. This means that it is not possible to capture incidences where laws are being broken. Just because government authorities are monitoring people’s every move does not mean that members of the public should not take care of their own security. The failure to take care of their security matters could lead to harm while expecting government to be on the watch.

Having CCTV cameras everywhere has resulted to beliefs that the authorities are treating all Britons like criminals (Surette 2005), which will take long time for authorities to discriminate. This is because the cameras collect information of law abiding citizens; there is no way of differentiating the good people from bad ones. Being taken in such a manner is very demoralizing on member of the public, and could even lead to development of some fear. The increased use has also been taken to mean that authorities have little trust on the citizenry (Bulos 1995). Indeed, it could mean that authorities do not trust that members of the public can conduct themselves in a civil manner without being monitored through CCTV. The most disheartening thing about us e of this technology is that increased use of technology has not made Britons feel more secure. As a result, they feel as if they are paying too much for services that hare not paying back. The biggest cost faced by the citizenry is loss of liberty that would be discussed later in the paper. Unfortunately for citizens, it is not possible to differentiate form criminals from non criminals. Ethical issues in the use of CCTV surveillance have resulted to citizens questioning its use. Apart from loss of privacy and liberty, it is being asked whether authorities are justified to follow every move taken by member of law abiding citizenry without having done any wrong.

Impacts of CCTV Surveillance

The use of CCTV surveillance system has no real impacts on crime rates but is useful in providing evidence after crimes have occurred (Norris, McCahill & Wood 2004). IT therefore means that the system cannot serve as a preventative measure but as an evidence collecting tool. However, authorities have hardly agreed to body of evidence highlighting such research findings. Governing authorities have continued to expand their CCTV systems in belief that more cameras would deter criminals from performing their acts. However, authorities fail to take into consideration that criminal, too, think of ways and means of evading the camera and consequently performing their acts in camera-free areas. Criminal could do this though covering their faces or cameras themselves.

The failures of CCTV to meet authorities’ expectations develop from over reliance and lack of manpower to handle cases. Since the system is geared towards capturing crimes being performed and thus lead to apprehension of culprits. However this requires individuals to be watching monitors at all times, while others stood guard, waiting to be told on where to the suspect is located. For instance, a city that has 400 cameras requires equal number of individuals to be watching monitors at all times. An even greater of officers is supposed to be on the ground waiting to be given instruction on where crimes have been committed. Affording to employ all those individuals is an uphill task for local governments and national authorities. In addition, utilizing lost of resources at the expense of other social services would attract a lot of acrimony from members of the public. All this mean that CCTV systems lack enough manpower to make them effective.

Despite the evidence of CCTV failure, government authorities have continued to mount more cameras on city streets in belief that crime rates would reduce. In addition, many cities have continued to rely on this ineffective system because of the sunk costs that were already made in the initial stages. However, this is not unique to CCTV systems alone. In fact, many other government projects continue to be funded despite evidences that they are drains of public resources. Unfortunately for Britons, cameras on city stress are taken by authorities as evidence that something is being done regarding security issue. The cameras have therefore become public relations tools from members of law enforcement forces. But this needs to change, especially through the performance of cost benefit analysis before any extra cameras are mounted on public places. This cost-benefit–analysis should be performed in conjunction with members of the public who for the core stakeholder group. The failure to incorporate members of the public in decisions regarding installation of these cameras has indeed contributed to lack of success in the system. Authorities already understand that members of the public would most likely decline use of CCTV in their neighbourhoods, reason being the evidence showing system’s inefficiency. For instance, the public could claim the law enforcement officials tend to rely more on the system rather than performing patrols that are more effective in deterring criminals from engaging in dangerous activities.

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Research Methods

Literature Review

The use of CCTV in surveillance activities has indeed attacked wide attention form the academia and policy analysis circles. The debate regarding efficiency of CCTV in reducing crime rates, meeting authorities’ expectations as well as respecting individual liberties have continued to dominate in the literature. At the same time, arguments with regard to inefficiencies of CCTV surveillance seem to be wining against other competitors. This is because of the overwhelming evidence regarding the loss of privacy among law abiding citizens (Beck, 1992, p. 21). Beck continues to argue in lines of technology determination theory that production of good technology (such as video that is used in CCTV) has the potential of producing some bad effects that end up harming the society. However, Beck (1992, p. 152) is quick to note that technology itself is not the chief cause of the ‘bads’ that get experienced by members of the public; he places the improper application of technology as chief reason that lead to the negative aspects of technology. With regard to CCTV use in controlling crime in United Kingdom, Beck (1992, p. 119) argues that the technology is better used in strategic locations instead of the current CCTV craze that seems to have groped the country.

As if to support Beck in his assertions, Beck et al. (2006 p. 6) states that successive use of CCTV technology in the United Kingdom despite evidence that the system has not met expectations of the authorities using such systems. In support of this thesis, Beck (2006, p. 59) claim that it is the use of corrupt power within leadership that lead to continued use of the technology. This is because leadership in authorities tend to have developed interests in CCTV and thus push for continued use. In addition, Beck et al (2006, p. 69) claim that leadership is quick to show member of the public that authorities are concerned about security issues in respective localities. The continuation of this process despite failure of the system has led to the situation where people in the community get stuck with broken systems and yet they are not given the chance make a contribution (Ball et al., 2006, p 89). Ball thus concludes that the country has found itself in the current mess as a result of leadership’s failure to change their minds regarding the use of this system.

Despite the shortcoming and increased use of the system in United Kingdom, Williams (2003, p. 26) says that criticism being made by writers like Ballet al. and Beck are not new. Indeed, writes William, the use of CCTV camera’s in the United Kingdom was there even before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. However, William (2006, p. 173) says that the first video surveillance was used to record faces of criminals, after being caught. The success of using it led to the introduction of the system on several parts of London before proliferating into other neighbourhoods countrywide. Members of the public had tried to express their sentiments on thus technology but there were no authorities ready to listen.

More literature, especially statistics, relating to CCTV surveillance and crime rates in different parts of the country will be investigated and reported accordingnly. The study will make a point of comparing the UK’s CCTV use and crime rates with other countries. A comparison of major cities in the world and London will also be performed. However, some little focus would be directed at understanding how New York (both City and State) succeeded at reducing crime rates in heavily crime-prone localities without the use of CCTV (Hier 2004).


Questionnaires will also be used in the process of collecting data from stakeholders. The major reason for using questionnaires is because of the following advantages. First, fact that all the questions will be standardised will provide the researcher with answers that would be easier to analyse and present data (Bakers 2001). In this case, the researcher will have easy time to analyse data and present it to stakeholders. This will indeed increase speed by which the study is undertaken. As a result, stakeholders will be in a position to use the data in various ways, which are all beneficial to society. In addition, the method helps in quick information collection, reason being that participants will be filling the questionnaires documents on their own. The researcher will have enough time to concentrate on face to face interviews as other individuals were working on questionnaires. In addition to this benefit, the participants will have more time to think about the questions contained therein. This will mean that they can postpone their answers on several questions. In this regard, they will answer in the best ways they know how, which helps in providing high quality and answers and subsequent research results. In addition, participants can be sourced from a wider group of people. In this case, the researcher will be many questionnaire documents to different individuals in hope that most of them would respond and therefore improve quality of the research.

Despite the aforementioned benefits, questionnaires also have some drawbacks that will be considered in the course of collecting data. It is due to these limitations that the researcher included interviews in the study. Both research methods are meant to help each other overcome challenges. One disadvantage of this method is the time that might take members of the public to respond to researcher’s calls (Sarantakos 2000). Unlike in interviews, there is no way for the researcher to ensure that members of the public. In questionnaires, members of the public might take too long to return the documents, which might lead to delaying the compilation and analyzing of research. In this case the researcher will develop incentives that would lead to greater response from members of the public. Some of the incentives might include being invited to participate in final presentation of the project findings as well as receiving a copy of research report. He researcher intends to send massive quantities of questionnaires in order to increase response. Ina addition, the researcher will also present the questionnaires to members of the public as they go about their affairs in public places.


As mentioned earlier, interviews will be used to collect information from stakeholders in the country. People that would be targeted in these interviews include members of the public, local government officials, law enforcement officials and central government personalities involved with the management of CCTV surveillance. In addition, private sector companies that are involved with the installation and management of these systems will be considered. As it would be explained later in this section, the report will focus on the success of other countires in reducing crime rates without extensive use of CCTV in the process (Brymann 2003). In that regard, some officials from the American city would be interviewed. Some of the advantages of using interview are described in this section. First, it has to be considered interviews are cheaper compared to other modes of getting primary data. For instance, the researcher will not have to travel all the way to travel to all counties in the country in order to interview members of the governing body there. All that would be required is just a phone call between the two parties and everything will be done from there. The improved technology can even allow for a video conference between interviewee and the researcher. Both methods will be used depending on the flexibility of interviewees.

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In regard to local interviews, the researcher will make a point of standing close to localities with greater population of CCTV cameras and ask members of the public on their views regarding this method of surveillance. In addition, it shall be ensured that citizens of different cultural background, age, sex and religion would be interviewed. This will be done to ensure that all groups are represented, which will help the researcher in understanding mentalities between different groups. In addition, the researcher will be interested in understanding whether there are groups of citizens who feel as if they are the key targets of CCTV surveillance. With regard to public officials, the researcher will ensure of making appointments with relevant offices. The researcher currently prefers to start interviewing members of the public, then representatives from other cities and finally concentrate on government officials. Another great advantage of interviews other than being cheap is that face to face talk with stakeholders in the country would most likely to provide straight forward answers without having get around the question (Grace, 1998). In addition, the researcher will be in a position to ask for clarifications for these interviewees. Despite these advantages, interviews have their limitations. First, any phone interview will have to be shorter because of the possibility of interviewees being tired. However, the researcher intends to ask short questions as well as requesting the officials to use speaker phone, which is less tiring. The face to face interview with members of governing authorities in the United Kingdom could fail to deliver the desired results. This would develop from fact that authorities might be adamant to provide information to the researcher, who might be seen as not privacy to the information.

Theories to be used

The three theories will be used to address CCTV issues in UK include:

Technological Determination: This theory states that it is technology that drives society and nothing that members in the community can do about it. It therefore means that technology determines how individuals in the society relate with each other. The project shall investigate whether technological determinism has been a factor in the country. Even before embarking on researching whether this is the case with United Kingdom, it can be concluded that citizens in this country have been victims of this theory. One reason is that members of the public have not been involved in decision making processed regarding the use of technology in public places. Instead, it has been leaders in local authorities and national governments that have been determining the extensity of this service. This situation has been worsened by increasing use of CCTV technology by members of the public.

The second theory to be used is the social shaping technology, which states that states that it is human beings who shapes technology and not the other way round. This is in contradiction with technological determination described above. The study will examine extensity of this theory in explaining what UK’s experience with CCTV surveillance. However, it is easy to see that citizen groups have been trying to change the current state of affairs where their lives are being shaped by technology and thus start shaping CCTV use. In that regard, the speed by which individual localities have been trying to change technology to community’s benefit will be investigated. The pressure being applied by individual civil liberty groups in changing the way citizens relate with technology would most likely lead to this theory becoming a reality in United Kingdom.

The third theory to be used in the study is information society that deals with how information is manipulated by the society in order to benefit all. This theory provides all members in the community with equal opportunities to participate in technology dissemination process. The extensity of technological society in the country will be investigated and reported accordingly. The use of CCTV technology in the country has been minimal until recently, when the citizenry started using it at their public places. Despite the increase in use, it is evident that members of the public have been left out of decision making processes that lead to the installation of CCTV in their own neighbourhoods. This leads to a hypothesis that technological society in the United Kingdom with regard to CCTV surveillance has not been experienced as of yet. The combined use of the three theories would help in the investigation of CCTV issues in the country.


Researching this topic has been an eye opener in man ways. First, this researcher now understands that CCTV has been in the use for many years. It was astonishing to learn that the city of London was already using CCTV even before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. However, it is the efficiency in the system that has led to the widespread use. Another lesson has been that CCTV surveillance is increasingly becoming the commonplace in the country despite increasing inefficiencies in the system. However, CCTV research has the drawback of lacking enough support for CCTV use in surveillance. The body of research showing negatives of the system is greater than the one showing the negative side. The report culminating from this study would serve as a middle ground between the two extremes. This shall be done through thorough combining both sides during research and in the culminating report.


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