Does Omniveillance prevent crime? London Police say “Six crimes a day” solved by CCTV

December 28th, 2010

From the BBC:

CCTV cameras across London help solve almost six crimes a day, the Metropolitan Police (Met) has said. Det Ch Insp Mick Neville, who heads the Met’s identification unit, said CCTV images were “treated like fingerprints and DNA” by the force.

The number of suspects who were identified using the cameras went up from 1,970 in 2009 to 2,512 this year. Earlier this month campaign group Big Brother Watch criticised the rise in the number of CCTV cameras.

The group said the cameras were “a ubiquitous feature on Britain’s streets”. The number of cameras in Britain has gone up from 21,000 in 1999 to 59,753 in 2010, it added.

The Met said among the 2,512 suspects caught this year, four were suspected murderers, 23 rapists and sex attackers and five wanted gunmen.

Notice the phraseology. The cameras help solve–not stop crimes. Massive surveillance is essentially useless to stop crimes in progress. How many videos do we see of terrorists boarding planes or entering subway tunnels before they commit nefarious deeds? Cameras, generally, are only good at solving crimes ex post, not preventing them ex ante.

I wonder how many of those crimes would have been solved in the absence of the cameras? That statistic, of course, is not present in the story, as it is largely unknowable.

Assuming that those six crime solved daily would not have been solved without the cameras, the question is this–what level of privacy is society willing to sacrifice in order to solve those six crimes. Britain has nearly 60,000 cameras monitoring nearly every aspect of life. It is worth it?