March 7, 2011

The London Eye

Filed under: Uncategorized — publicandprivatespace @ 11:20 am

Vishal Desai


They are to the left of you, to the right of you, in front of you, and above you.  There is nothing that they don’t see and nothing that they don’t hear.  There is no way you can go to avoid them and there is no place you can hide where they cannot find you.  London, England is now the most invasively monitored city in the entire world and CCTV’s 1,000,000 camera system has created a society in which there is no where citizens can be unseen, and no where citizens can go unnoticed.  In fact, it is estimated that the average Londoner is seen on camera over 350 times a day.

Designed to crack down on terrorism and act as a deterrent crime, the system has grown to monitor public areas, drivers, license plates, and IDs. It has grown from plain security cameras to units that are retrofitted with microphones and speakers.   It has been further empowered by having mobile units which literally attach to the hats of police officers.  Cameras are even being installed on remote controlled helicopters called spy drones to allow surveillance teams to see even the most tightly knit corners.  It is a situation nearly unheard of for those of us who do not live in London or the UK for that matter.  Even if we may not be criminals or terrorists, the idea of being seen at all times everyday is certainly something we are not used to.  However, this is a stark reality for all of London’s 8,000,000 citizens.

The British government calls their masterpiece of public security their “Ring of Steel.  It is through their united system of security systems that they have attempted to create the most secure of societies without impeding on the rights of their citizens as laid out in their bill of rights.  According to the legal system, a British civilian has the right to know that he or she is being filmed in order for any video footage to be considered for legal grounds.  This may be a simple verbal assurance, a sign that says “CCTV filming”, or any sort of disclosure before entering a public or private facility.

Surprising to many, CCTV has not been the end-all-be-all for the lives of Londoners.  In fact, most polls indicate a positive response to the presence of the cameras.  People feel safer to know that somebody is watching and feel that the some burden of security has been taken off their shoulders.  There is, as expected, some degree of opposition however.  Britain’s notorious Big Brother UK Watch is a group that feels that CCTV is a complete invasion of privacy and an unnecessarily invasive security measure.  Despite their efforts of peaceful protests, the Britith government has no intentions what so ever to cut funding to CCTV and the plan remains to maintain the worlds most sophisticated security system.

With such a complicated yet cohesive system of monitors, CCTV has racked up quite the bill for the British government.  Although exact values have not been released by government, it is estimated that CCTV has cost London Tax Payers an estimated 800 million pounds in order to fund all forms of direct and indirect surveillance.  Some, including members of London’s very own police force and from the world renowned Scotland Yard, don’t feel that the system is in London’s best interest and is a serious misallocation of resources.  They simply feel that CCTV is better at seeing a crime rather than actually preventing it. For example, Scotland Yard is currently in possession of every single second of footage (from dozens of angles) of 2005 London Subway bombing which killed 52 civilians.  However, didn’t the attack still happen.  “Many critics argue that cameras are better at recording events than preventing them.”  The opinions of the government and public are further exacerbated by the relentless developments and modifications in the system such as apparatuses which can even give commands or move with an increased surveillance radius.

In May of 2010, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg arrived in London.  His mission?  To learn more about this “Ring of Steel” with possible implications of installing a similar system in his own city someday.  Bloomberg was quoted saying in a London press conference, “That’s what its all about in being able to deter, prevent, and if god forbid something did happen, apprehend the people that caused it.”   London CCTV has caught the attention of politicians from all over the world and many American cities in particular have considered creating their own “Ring of Steel”.  Even Canada has begun planning the implementation of such a circuit.  Most Americans cannot go a day without seeing a security camera but what if this day turned into hours which turned into minutes?  According to what has been presented here, it is very possible that American citizens may experience the same type of surveillance that has been described in London.



  1. Your article brings up several good points. Personal invasion of security is an issue that affects every American in today’s society. Governments are spending more and more taxpayers money on security upgrades which they claim makes the general population safer. Like you said in your post, the London bombings were filmed on CCTV but they still did happen. The lesson I take away from this is that crimes are going to happen and cameras will help deter any potential crimes however, when a crime isn’t being committed, those cameras are watching your every move almost 350 times a day.

    Comment by Thomas Mooney — March 9, 2011 @ 10:27 am | Reply

  2. Having so many cameras in London strikes the question, “who is really watching?” If there are a million cameras, would that mean that there are also one million workers diligently watching the streets of London? I do not understand how having one million cameras helps security. Who ever watches the cameras cannot possibly be close enough to help anyone in danger. I understand that having cameras watching always leads people to be paranoid, but what are people paranoid of? Being seen? If that were the case, than those people should be afraid to go into public. Going into a public place exposes someone to everyone else that is outside. The surveillance cameras are put there with the best intentions.

    Comment by Jill Germana — March 9, 2011 @ 10:44 am | Reply

  3. I don’t really think that this is that bad of an idea. Sure it feels weird, but it doesn’t really affect the people being watched in a negative way unless the government is allowed to share the footage with others, which is something I have trouble seeing. If that were the case, it would be aweful, because you’d have to watch to make sure you acted professional at all times so that potential business partners didn’t see you making a fool of yourself. But I don’t think that that is the case. Instead, I’m guessing that the cameras simply act as crime witnesses. I’m interested in seeing how many criminals have been punished as a result of these cameras. I guess I’d have to argue that if they aren’t that helpful, then they should probably be thrown out, but for a financial reason rather than for the invasion of privacy.

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 9, 2011 @ 11:34 am | Reply

  4. By Adrian Smith

    The ‘Ring of Steel’ may seem like an excess amount of security but it also doesn’t pose that much of a problem in reality. Wether you are in London or America, there will be video cameras everywhere. Just because London has the most number of CCTVs doesn’t mean it’s so different than America. The vast majority of every store or restaurant in America has security cameras. CCTV’s aren’t there to monitor peoples’ conversations about what television show last night. They are there to witness a crime if someone commits one. Say a criminal robs a fast food restaurant and gets away. The evidence on the video camera will be able to see the criminal’s face or look at the driver’s license of the vehicle he used to get away. Victims in the restaurant might not be able to recall what the robber looked like. CCTVs would only be an invasion of privacy if the government installed them in peoples’ homes or in public bathrooms. If the people being watched aren’t about to commit a crime, then what is the problem?
    As far as the cost of CCTVs, I can see where people might not like them. Using some tax money to pay for security cameras is understandable but being forced to pay extreme amounts of tax dollars would cause problems. The 2005 subway bombing isn’t a good example since it was acted out by suicide bombers. The bombers knew they were not going to make it out alive, so why would it matter to them whether they are caught on camera or not? The whole purpose of the camera is to identify the criminal after the act. The bombing is an extreme example of why cameras do not work.

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 9, 2011 @ 1:57 pm | Reply

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