CCTV cameras also known as close circuit television have been a part of our lives since the year 1942 when they were first used by Siemens AG to observe the take-off of V2 rockets in Nazi Germany. The first commercial version dates back to 1949 and an American government contractor named Vericon.
It was in America also that the first close circuit television was used to observe automobiles in a street. That milestone was set in the town of Olean in New York state in the year 1969. Since then they have spread into every aspect of our lives.
It is now commonplace to see CCTV cameras in shopping malls, banks, sports stadiums, stores and on private premises allowing us to see who is outside our own door.
It’s not just the good and righteous among us who are using this technology. Criminal gangs now use close circuit television as part of an elaborate scam to steal our credit card details. By installing a false front on ATM machines they are able to transfer back the details on the magnetic strip to a computer in the vicinity. At the same time a small CCTV camera is watching to capture and transmit back the details of your pin code number.
The country with the most CCTV cameras per head of population is the United Kingdom. In fact it is reported that the number of close circuit television cameras in the UK is more than the whole of the rest of Europe put together!
This begs the question as to whether the state is intruding into citizens lives in far more detail than they reasonably should in a democratic society. It is entirely possible for you to be captured leaving your house in the morning on the school run and then going to work. At work you may have cameras watching you and then you are captured again going for a sandwich before going back to work and then home all on camera.
The commonest excuse for the deployment of CCTV cameras is in the prevention and detection of crime. The reality is that close circuit television works better in some areas of crime prevention than others. The best results by far are when CCTV is deployed in parking lots and this dramatically decreases the number of thieves stealing from cars or in fact stealing the cars themselves.
In the UK, close circuit television is often used on the roads to capture speeding drivers on whom a fine is levied. This has led to the belief in some quarters that CCTV is less about road safety and more about raising monies for the revenue and local police authorities. There is little evidence to suggest that it actually makes the public highways any safer.
Whatever you think about CCTV it is here to stay and hopefully the benefits will prove to outweigh the deficits.