Leon Hempel & Eric Töpfer: On the Threshold to Urban Panopticon? Analysing the Employment of CCTV in European Cities and Assess

Leon Hempel & Eric Töpfer: On the Threshold to Urban Panopticon? Analysing the Employment of CCTV in European Cities and Assessing its Social and Political Impacts

Abstract

The proliferation of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) in publicly accessible space across Europe has been the topic of the comparative research project “URBANEYE. On the Threshold to Urban Panopticon?”. A multidisciplinary research team studied the rise, employment, and the social and political implications of CCTV in order to outline strategies for regulation. The work started in September 2001 and ended in June 2004 and was undertaken in seven European countries: Austria, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Norway, and Spain.

CCTV is often deployed as an instrument of crime control. Semi-professional evaluations, referring to analyses of crime statistics, report an allegedly effectiveness. However, several criminologists have argued one should never assume that CCTV will have an effect on crime regardless of the mechanisms under which it is expected to work and the environmental context in which it is embedded. The URBANEYE results show: One cannot make any generalisations about the extent, nature and impact of CCTV surveillance from the mere existence of a system. CCTV systems are deployed for various purposes, have diverse levels of technological sophistication, operating procedures and staffing policies. Operation and impacts have to be understood as the outcome of the interplay between technological, organisational and cultural factors.

Moreover, the study shows two major trends that are of importance for the further development and thus for the regulation of CCTV. In terms of expansion there is a twofold trend. Firstly, CCTV has become an essential part of daily life. We found one third of all publicly accessible premises in selected high streets to operate a system which was very often not notified. However, most existing systems are small and isolated systems with poor technological standard aimed at symbolic deterrence rather than active surveillance. Secondly, there is a clear trend towards an integration and digitalisation of larger systems. Thus the often opaque character of visual surveillance is enhanced as surveillance webs and invisible algorithms tend to become the core of advanced CCTV networks. Nonetheless, our results show that CCTV is supported in general by a majority of people though often found to be rather uninformed about the actual functions and practices of CCTV.

Given this combination of increasing opaqueness and uninformed citizens, a political response should be found in the immediate future. To ensure democratic control of CCTV the black box should be opened. The extent of surveillance should be made transparent by registration, the proportionality of deployment and its fitness for purpose should be assessed by a licensing system, managers and operators should be made accountable and regular inspection should guarantee compliance with a common and consistent set of codes of practices.

Table of contents

1 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
2 BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES OF THE PROJECT
3 SCIENTIFIC DESCRIPTION OF THE PROJECT RESULTS AND METHODOLOGY
3.1 UNDERSTANDING CCTV. THE STATE OF ART
3.2 LEGAL FRAMEWORK AND PUBLIC DEBATE
3.3 LOCATIONS AND ACTORS OF CCTV
3.4 CCTV SYSTEMS AND PRACTICES
3.5 THE SOCIAL EFFECTS OF CCTV
3.6 THE POLICY IMPLICATIONS OF CCTV
4 CONCLUSIONS AND POLICY IMPLICATIONS
4.1 CCTV: A EUROPEAN ISSUE?
4.2 COMPARISON: COMMON TRENDS AND NATIONAL DIFFERENCES
4.3 PURPOSES, ORGANISATION AND PRACTICES OF CCTV SURVEILLANCE
4.4 POLICY IMPLICATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
5 REFERENCES

http://www.urbaneye.net

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