In early 2002 Michael McCahill and Clive Norris of UrbanEye published a paper estimating there was 4,000,000 surveillance cameras in the UK – that is a staggering figure as it means one camera for every 14 people. The figure becomes even more staggering when considering the UK has 20% of the world's CCTVs. The increased proliferation of CCTVs in the United Kingdom has lead to debates over security versus privacy. CCTV was first introduced in the United Kingdom in response to the IRA bombings.
The supporters of the wide spread of CCTV technology argue it serves not only as a key crime prevention tool, but on detection and prosecution. The impact of CCTV on high profiled murder cases in the United Kingdom has been important. CCTV technology in the United Kingdom has been enhanced by a new software technology, called the Intelligent Pedestrian Surveillance system (IPS), which allows for advanced face recognition and monitoring. The IPS surveillance systems where first introduced in two London Underground stations - Liverpool Street and Mile End. The most concerning element of this project is that customers of these stations where never informed about the introduction of these cameras. Peter Tollington, at that time involved in the operation of the Underground justified by the decision with the following statement - "we want to get the technology right before we make any song or dance about its effectiveness".
On the other hand the introduction of CCTV has lead to an increased “Big Brother State” reminiscent of George Orwell’s nineteen eighty four which featured a two-way telescreen in every home through which The Party would monitor the population. The question raised is that citizens are being asked to give up civil liberties for security. This claim is defined as a false choice and quoting one of the founding fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin - "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
In 1996, a video called Caught in the Act prompted outrage when it hit stores in the United Kingdom. The film was a series of CCTV material showing people in a variety of intimate situations. On July 22, 2006 Jean Charles de Menzes, a Brazilian citizen living in London was shot dead by police at Stockwell station in London. CCTV footage has debunked some the police original claims. More concerning is that the CCTV footage of Stockwell station have never been made available. The police claim because of the follow-up bombing attempts the previous day, some of the tapes had been supposedly removed from various CCTV cameras, for study, and they were not functional.
This event as many more is a dramatic demonstration of the gap in trust between government and governed, rich and poor. More importantly and key to the discussion, it raises concerns regarding the collection and distribution of CCTV footage by public and private entities. In short, it poses the challenge of who is “watching the watchers”? The UK Data Protection Act of 1998 led to legal restrictions being imposed on the use that CCTV footage can be put to, and also mandated their registration with the Data Protection Agency. The successor to the Data Protection Agency, the Information Commissioner clarified that this required registration of all CCTV systems with the Commissioner, and prompt deletion of archived footage.
The extensive use of CCTV technology is increasingly becoming an element of Dark Matter Politics, as public consultation and disclosure on their installation is limited.