If, like me, you’re a Yank, living on this side of the Atlantic you have an expectation of privacy when you go out to stroll the streets of your favorite large American City. You don’t expect cameras to be watching.[i]
Londoners KNOW they are.
London ranks as the number one “most spied-on city” in the Western world,[ii] with approximately 1 camera for every 13 or 14 residents. There were between 630,000 and 691,000 Closed-Circuit Cameras (aka CCTV) in the sprawling metro area as of 2020/21.[iii] And the highest concentration of those cameras is in “The City” [if you’ve not yet read my explanation of the TWO Londons, click here and get caught up] aka London’s “central business district[iv]—Detective Inspector Nigella Parker’s ground.
The vast majority of London’s surveillance cameras are privately owned and operated. Basically, they belong to persons or companies who use them to monitor their businesses, shops or homes, as opposed being property of the Police (either The London City Police or the Metropolitan Police). Out of the more than 600,000 cameras in London, for example, the Met (that’s Scotland Yard, home of our detective O’Leary) operate only about 3000 cameras. Private cameras in the capital are now thought to outnumber public ones—including traffic and public transit cameras—by as much as 70 to 1. This does not mean, however, that with a proper warrant, the cops can’t get their hands on this private footage when they need to.
Most CCTV police cameras in London are not monitored in real time. And a vast majority of the footage they record is never seen. The data exist for those moments when an accident or crime occurs.[v]
In the case of an accident, cameras may help a rescue teams get to the scene faster, and later—in the case of a hit and run for example—help police find the responsible party.
When it comes to criminal behavior, the simple existence of CCTV cameras—and the fact that your average Londoner knows they are there—is believed to reduce non-violent crimes. There is no indication, however, that rates of violent crime are reduced by CCTV surveillance. [vi]In investigations of violent crimes CCTV footage matters after the fact: as a vital tool for identifying and ferreting out a criminal actor, and as evidence to eventual convict that suspect.
Bottom line: Any way you count em, London has a lot of cameras, so next time you are wandering the streets make sure to smile and wave. Are you feeling paranoid yet?