You & Yours: Has CCTV Helped You?

Tomorrow consumer programme You and Yours asks in their weekly phone-in episode whether CCTV has helped listeners.  The background to this topic is that Surveillance Commissioner Tony Porter thinks that many of the UK’s 5 million CCTV cameras are either useless or unnecessary.

His comments come at a time when the Metropolitan Police are trialling body cameras and many of the UK population own smartphones that can take pictures, record video and upload the results to the internet.

My view is that I generally see recording events as a good thing, particularly with regard to crime prevention, catching criminals after the event and proving what really happened in the case of disputes.  Personally, I’d much rather have a recording of the person who committed an assault or a conman who tried to rip people off than the excessive volume of videos and pictures micro-documenting of people’s lunch or what their pets got up to (cute as the latter may be).

There is always a balance to be struck, as more monitoring by definition means less privacy.  There is also the old question of who watches the watchers.  A surveillant society certainly needs checks and balances to function properly.

Here are a few cases from my own life where I previously did not consider recording events to be necessary but would now see the value in doing so:

  • When driving: due to the rise of crash for cash scams.
  • Whilst cycling: although I live in quiet area where most car drivers are very courteous, twice in the past year I’ve signalled to make a right turn and then as I executed the turn discovered a car behind had irresponsibly started overtaking me (on the wrong side of the road), blocking my path and placing my life in danger.  I am strongly in favour of recording this kind of dangerous driving and passing details to the police.
  • Recording phone calls that result in me starting a contract with a company: e.g. taking out insurance.  A number of times salesmen have been economical with the truth, and twice in recent years I’ve been opted into continuous payment authorities without my conscious consent.
  • When approached by someone on public transport who claims to be an official but refuses to show ID: this has happened a couple of times and in each case the train company declined to download their CCTV, so it is up to passengers to gather their own evidence.  In the previous incidents they did turn out to be a genuine employees but next time it could be a fraudster.

For those interested in this topic, I’m sure You and Yours would welcome your call.