Big Brother

CCTV or Closed Circuit Television is everywhere and we are so used to them that we don’t even notice them anymore. This kind of surveillance takes place in areas such as shops, restaurants, roads, casinos, hotels, airports and hospitals. Indeed wherever there are groups of people, there is a probably a camera watching.

CCTV can also be used for monitoring areas that are not safe for people, for example, in factories where a process is best observed from a central control room. Processes in the chemical industry, the interior of reactors or facilities involved in producing nuclear fuel would all come under this category. As of last year, there are around 350 million surveillance cameras around the world. Some frontline professionals are using a personal form of CCTV in the shape of Body Worn Cameras to increase personal safety. For more information, visit

The first CCTV system was operated by Nazi Germany in 1942 for watching the launch of V2 rockets. In the United States, the first commercial use came in 1949. The earliest forms involved constant monitoring as there was no way to record and store the information. Video surveillance was not widespread even after the invention of reel-to-reel recording due to the time consuming and costly nature of the process. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that VCR technology made it easier to record, store and delete unwanted information.

The 1990’s saw technology advancing so that several cameras could record at once, with time lapse and motion only recording becoming possible. This led to a rise in the use of CCTV. Recent changes involve the use of the internet. CCTV is always had crime prevention at its heart. New York was the first city to install cameras along its main business street in 1968 to deter criminal activity. CCTV was often seen as a cheaper option compared to increasing the size of a police force. In the UK, the first use of cameras was in King’s Lynn, Norfolk in 1987. Today, these cameras are all over our towns, city centres, car parks and housing estates.

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A 2009 survey that included cities in both the UK and the U.S found that surveillance systems had proved most successful in car parks where a 51% decline in crime was recorded. Public transportation saw a drop of 23% in crime. However, there is some argument that this just displaces crime into an area that is not covered by cameras. CCTV is useful in the detection and conviction of offenders and UK police forces regularly seek CCTV footage after crimes. It has proved invaluable in tracing the movements of perpetrators and victims alike and is fundamental in the tracking of terrorist suspects.

CCTV also has an important role to play in the monitoring of traffic. Most cities and motorways have extensive networks of traffic monitoring systems which use CCTV to record accidents and congestion. These can be owned by private firms who transmit the data to GPS devices in vehicles and on mobile phones. The Highways Agency has over 3000 cameras covering the British motorway and trunk road network.