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“On CCTV 300 times a day.” Rubbish. And here’s why.

I was  prompted to write this today owing to a TV news report that stated each of us is likely “caught” on camera “330 times a day”. What?!  

First, a subsidiary point in this outrage is that when we’re viewed by a CCTV camera we shouldn’t feel “caught”. Why the negative wording, eh, Mr. TV Reporter? Are you “caught” when a bobby-on-the-beat sees you walking along in accordance with the law of the land? No. So why say that about CCTV? Sensationalist agenda from the mass media? Hmm. Anyway, on to the main point of this blog post.  

300 cctv cameras in one day

Thomas thought it would save time to go and get his "300 a day" over in one go. Image © Simon Lambert

I couldn’t help but notice the ubiquitous urban myth that each of us is view by 300 CCTV cameras per day in the UK has been inflated in this tv report to 330. Where did the additional 30 times a day spring from? I imagine someone decided that the figure must have gone up since it was originally ‘calculated’ and that 10% seems like a reasonable wild stab in the dark to a journalist looking to advance their career with breaking news, eh what? Tosh.  

So where did the 300 figure come from in the first place? Can it be relied upon as the truth of the matter? The media certainly trot it out as ‘fact’ at every opportunity, and we know how trustworthy they are 😉  This was addressed recently in respected magazine Wired in ‘A Sharp Focus on CCTV’ by Heather Brooke. She wrote that Simon Davies of Privacy International walked London from Blackfriars to Bond Street in the earlier 1990’s and counted cameras before multiplying this up. How on earth can that represent the whole of the UK? It’s laughable, so let’s dismiss that.  

Heather mentions a much more illuminating article by David Aaronovitch in The Times in 2007, so I went hunting for it. It’s quite a long article, so here are the salient points in short form with due credit to Mr. Aaronovitch for his diligence.  

  • The Information Commissioner’s 2006 “Report of the Surveillance Society” states “a person can be captured on over 300 cameras each day”.
  • The media reword this as “the average person is”, as distinct from the original, “a person can be”, which foments far less unrest.
  • The ICO quotes 1999 book “The Maximum Surveillance Society” as the source of this number 300.
  • This book describes a fictional journey around London where the hero visits in one day:
    – his home estate that has a drugs problem
    – two schools
    – a hospital maternity wing
    – his work place
    – shops
    – a railway crossing
    – several car parks
    – public transport
    – Heathrow airport
    – a football stadium
    – a red-light district
    – a speed camera in his car.
  • It seems you have to work very, very hard to be viewed by 300 cameras, even in this fictional construction.

So, the figure really is rubbish. I hope you’re gobsmacked by the apparent truth behind the hackneyed headlines. Being viewed by 300 cameras a day is demonstrably an urban myth with practically no foundation in fact. It’s the product of story about a fictional fellow making a wholly non-average journey in London. The actual number has not been determined and let’s not forget, London isn’t Swansea, which isn’t Inverness; so don’t generalize for everwhere in the UK. It has been ‘laundered’ from one academic tome to another until it’s origins in a fictional piece are deeply buried. Then it has been misquoted by the media so many times that it has become an almost irresistable virus. Rubbish though it be, I’m astounded to see that this now ‘de facto’ statement has just been arbitrarily given a 10% boost with no discernible justification. Don’t stand for it. Say something to the people who need to know. 

Until next time; stay focused.

10 comments to “On CCTV 300 times a day.” Rubbish. And here’s why.

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