Every time Londoners drive into the center of town, get on a bus or stroll through a shopping center, they can expect to be photographed, says the New York Daily News. Surveillance cameras are “everywhere,” acknowledges Alastair Campbell, a Scotland Yard spokesman. There are 4 million closed-circuit television cameras, one for every 14 Britons, according to Liberty, a civil liberties group. That number includes 6,000 cameras in the London Underground – a number due to double – and up to 12 cameras on each of London’s 8,500 buses. Images from these cameras were used to identify the suicide bombers in the attacks last July 7 and suspects in attempted copycat bombings two weeks later.
As the New York Police Department brings in surveillance cameras and seeks computerized license-plate readers in lower Manhattan, the verdict is out on whether the more extensive British systems have cut crime and deterred terrorism. Criminologist Martin Gill of the University of Leicester found in a study for the government that cameras rarely cut crime, mainly because they are badly positioned or footage is not recorded or monitored properly. He defended their use: “There’s much more to cameras than reducing crime. There are plenty of examples of offenders who are in prison today solely because of cameras.” As the surveillance grows, opposition remains all but mute. “There’s been almost no controversy over its spread in the last decade,” said Tim Newburn, professor of criminology at the London School of Economics. “It’s partly to do with the fear of crime and partly to do with the persistence with which it’s been sold to the public as the latest silver bullet in crime control.”