Installing your own security cameras is now as simple as having a phoneline put in and according to some more of us are doing it. Neil Hudson examines the rise of ‘little brother’
No-one really knows how many closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras are out there but some have estimated it is over four million and most of those are privately owned.
What may once have been the luxury of mansion house-owning millionaires is now within the grasp of most, so that even high-end systems cost less than £500. Add to this the fact the technology has become so user-friendly most people with a mobile phone could easily operate their own home CCTV network.
According to some, that’s what more of us are choosing to do.
Wilfred Scott, an architect from Rothwell, is one.
He decided to have four cameras fitted to his house following two attempted break-ins several years ago.
Speaking to the Yorkshire Evening Post, the 57-year-old said: “We had two cameras fitted to start with and then four. It was in response to two break-ins. During one of them I woke up about 2am and watched someone trying to get into the house. At that time, I had an expensive car on the drive, a new Audi A4, and so did my son. The thinking was they were after the keys so they could take the cars. I watched them knock the lock out of the doors, which took all of two minutes. On that occasion, I managed to scare them away.
“I got it all on camera and the following day I took the footage down to the police station and they managed to track the two culprits down the next day.”
But that was not the only attempted break-in he suffered and so, after brief deliberation, he decided to have some covert cameras installed.
“Some people say putting cameras up encourages people to think you have something worth having but I disagree. The cameras I have, three of them at least, are dome cameras, like the ones you see in shopping centres, so they are not overt.
“I think it’s more about having a sense of security. Because they are all accessible over the internet, it means that if you are on holiday, you can keep an eye on the house, basically from anywhere in the world. If you do see someone breaking in while you are away, even if you tell the police, it’s unlikely they will get there in time but it’s more about peace of mind than anything else.
“The cameras will pick up anything that moves within a certain vicinity, so they will catch things like cats and foxes and most of the time I don’t even look at the footage. It records to a computer hard drive and when it’s full it just begins recording over what’s already there.
“I did on one occasion have a neighbour come to ask me whether my camera might have caught something on camera he was concerned about. He had seen some people loitering around his house and when we looked at the footage, we did indeed see them looking at the house during the small hours and then returning a short while later.”
He added: “I think the number of people installing their own cameras is on the increase. I don’t believe there’s an issue with regards to invasion of privacy. The cameras I have are only trained on my property and anyway, we are all used to being on camera these days when we go shopping and so on.
“I think anyone who has been broken into will appreciate the value of them. They are relatively non-costly to install and the technology makes using them so simple.”
By coincidence, Wilfred’s son Martin is an electrical engineer whose work sometimes involves installing security cameras and it’s a line of work he’s seeing more of.
Martin, who runs Leeds-based Modern Technology Installations, said more people were installing CCTV systems in their homes.
“I’ve definitely seen an increase in the number of people wanting systems installing. The technology has moved on so much in recent years that today, it’s relatively simple to install a system in your home which can be accessed remotely via a computer or even a mobile phone. It’s the same kind of system people use to access their Sky TV when they are out of the home. If you do install a system and the cameras have the ability to pan, zoom and tilt, you can even move them around.
“More and more people are working away from home, they might want to check on their property or just make sure their family feel safe. I get a lot of clients who have cameras installed to watch things like outdoor sheds, cars and garages. If something happens, or if someone breaks in, you have something evidential to show the police.
“I remember one incident in which thieves threw a rock through a set of patio doors but the whole thing was captured on camera and the film was given to the police.
But this massive increase in private surveillance has given some people to worry.
Nick Pickles, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, argues the spread of CCTV cameras has done little to prevent crime.
He said: “Pretty much every piece of research done into CCTV has found it has barely any impact on crime. If it was the deterrent some claim it to be, Britain’s crime rate should be significantly lower than countries that don’t have the same level of surveillance. As it is, we’re no safer and despite CCTV being a totally ineffective deterrent, we continue to pour money into it as a crime prevention tool.
“More people are turning to CCTV at home but in reality it will do little to improve your security and in many cases leads to disputes with neighbours where cameras overlook gardens and other people’s property. You’d be far better off spending the money on real security measures that make it physically harder to get into your house.
“Sadly, in Britain the debate about CCTV has been hijacked by salesmen and politicians looking for a quick solution, rather than any evidence-based policy that, as many cities in the US have demonstrated, to tackle a problem you need to do more than record it on video. Anecdotally, more people are contacting us asking for advice when neighbours put cameras up.”
Meanwhile, civil rights campaign group Liberty said the UK was one of the most watched nations in the world, adding it was now being used in some schools, pubs and even swimming pool changing rooms.
It is calling for more regulation of the CCTV network, with safeguards put in place governing how the footage, whether public or private, is used.
A spokeswoman for the group said: “CCTV images can be a valuable tool in crime detection and they have been used effectively in a number of high profile cases over the past few decades. CCTV is however not a silver bullet. Often CCTV images are not sufficiently good quality to be used in criminal courts and it is relatively easy for someone to evade CCTV if they want to. Some police forces admit that they will not use CCTV footage because of the time and costs involved.
“Similarly, its effectiveness as a crime deterrent is far from proven. Our crime rates are comparable with countries with very few cameras. Our main concern is CCTV is unregulated. There is no binding legislation governing where CCTV cameras can be placed or who can operate them.”