The UK has the dubious honour of being one of the most watched places in the world thanks to the vast number of CCTV cameras that keep an eye on public spaces 24 hours a day. In 2002 it was estimated that there were 4.2 million of these cameras nationwide and a member of the public could expect to be recorded up to 300 times in one day.
While many of these cameras are privately owned, some offer public online feeds. Now the BBC is crowdsourcing a directory of publicly viewable CCTV.
The producers of current BBC2 series Who’s Watching You? have created a map that aims to link to every CCTV camera in the country with an online feed. The public is being encouraged to submit details of any that are currently missing.
The map is still quite sparsely populated at present, with the BBC’s own webcams making up the bulk of submissions. As an almost-live view of everyday British life there are a few gems though. One camera is trained on the famous zebra crossing on London’s Abbey Road, updating every second. It’s frequent enough to get flavour for life in an upmarket part of the capital. Mountaintop views and the Brighton seafront are also just a click away.
What’s clear from the map as it stands though is that public camera feeds are generally useless as a surveilance tool. Most of them refesh every few minutes and aren’t close enough to street level to identify individuals. It’s the ones that don’t have online feeds that the British public should be concerned about.
As Mike Rubin, Series Producer for Who’s Watching You? says “The official figures suggest that there are around 30,000 CCTV cameras operated by public authorities. Beyond that, there are hundreds of thousands – and almost certainly millions – of private CCTV cameras”.