The Use Of Closed Circuit Television In Crime Criminology Essay

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This essay explores the implications of the use of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras, a common counterterrorism surveillance measure, on the individual privacy. It begins by providing philosophical and legal perspectives on the notion of privacy. It then establishes the role of surveillance in counterterrorism and describes the CCTV for that purpose. It presents possible social outcomes resulting from the use of surveillance devices. It concludes that attaining a healthy balance in the use of surveillance devices and the protection of privacy requires a multiple approach involving all stakeholders.


While most people might understand that, the private domain is separate from the public and government, and that laws protect that domain from intrusion; few introspect on the importance of maintaining the integrity of the private domain. Society seems to have relegated this type of mental exercise to the philosophers and academes. Yet it is important for the ordinary man to understand the debate about privacy from a philosophical perspective because it has implications not only for democracy and civil rights but also for one's self-hood and humanity. Persuasive politicians can present information in most convincing ways and legalese minds can find loopholes in the laws. Circumstances may indeed call for some sacrifices of personal freedoms. However, when people have a philosophical understanding of privacy, the issues could become clearer.

History shows that our notions of privacy changes. This implies a need for vigilance on incremental changes that often go unnoticed until someone begins taking a historical perspective.

Hannah Arendt described the private domain within the context of the polis, the city of the ancient Greeks. The citizens of ancient Greeks considered the public domain the sphere of equality and the private sphere, which is the household or home, as the domain of inequality. In those days, non-participation in public life was comparable to not being able to explore one's human potentialities. Thus, ancient Greece associated privacy with deprivation. With time, the concept of privacy changed. Tyrants, feudal lords, and totalitarians invaded the public sphere diminishing the freedom in it. The private sphere became the domain of freedom. As the public sphere expanded, the private sphere decreased and became the self. According to Arendt (1958, pp. 58-70), the purpose of privacy include a guaranteed space for contemplation, the establishment of identity, and the preservation of the sacred and mysterious spaces of life.

Schneider (1987, p. 195) relates privacy to dignity. Our shame prompts us to protect our privacy, which in turn allows us to preserve our honor. Shame is critical to our humanity because it also tells us that our attitudes and actions are not acceptable even to ourselves. Similarly, Milton Konvitz (as cited in DeCew, 1997, p. 11) referred to the biblical description of Adam and Eve's shame when they partook of the forbidden fruits of the Tree of Knowledge. He points out that albeit mythically, our divine nature somehow relates with the private realm. The relevance of shame and privacy to the subject of the paper becomes evident when one considers that violating privacy would also devaluate shame, man's moral trigger. Even animals value their privacy. Alan Westin, an animal behaviorist, observed that even animals seek periods of individual seclusion "to promote well being and small group intimacy" (as quoted in DeCew, 1997, p. 12). Westin introduced four states of privacy: anonymity, reserve, solitude, and intimacy. He also identified the function of privacy to be personal agency, emotional release, self-evaluation, and limited and confidential communication ("Privacy - The Psychological...).


Legally, numerous international conventions declare the rights of individuals to privacy. Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 17 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Articles 16 and 40 of the Covenant on the Rights of the Child are explicit in giving individuals the right to privacy and it protection under the law (United Nations, 1997). Member countries that ratify these conventions have or should have domestic laws that operationalize the provisions of the conventions.

In the US, the legal right to privacy has basis in federal and state constitutions, common law of torts, and statutory laws. Selection of the appropriate law and or stature depends on circumstances and who is doing the "invading" (Woodward, 2002, p. 2).

The breaking down of privacy into dimensions reflects the complexity of the privacy issue and the legalese approach to its protection. The dimensions of privacy are physical body, communication, information, territorial, and image. Bodily privacy refers to extracted or observed data relating to the physical body. Communication privacy relates to the freedom of speech or silence. Information privacy refers to textual and numerical data of identifiable individuals. Territorial refers to spaces and areas. Image privacy refers to visual representations such as photos and video clippings. (Lyon, 2007, p. 175)

Counterterrorism, Surveillance and CCTV

The preventive nature of counterterrorism requires that police and military units tasked with the responsibility for counterterrorism have good intelligence, the ability to anticipate the actions of suspected or confirmed terrorists arising from analysis of intelligence, and the ability to react immediately. Good intelligence, which requires surveillance, is therefore a critical success factor in counter terrorism.

Although the term "surveillance" is commonly associated with the military, it is not exclusive to it. Broadly and traditionally, surveillance is the "systematic observation of aerospace, surface, or subsurface areas, places, persons or things by visual, electronic, photographic or other means" (US Department of Defense, 2005). Using this context as basis, surveillance is something researchers, marketing people, public health officials, and political personalities do. They just call it another name.

Ericson & Haggerty, (2006, p. 3) however describe surveillance as "involving the collection and analysis of information about populations in order to govern their activities". This definition expands the general definition and gives surveillance a purpose to manipulate and control or guide. It also alludes to the user of surveillance as having power over the population being monitored. This definition is more consistent with the apprehension some people have regarding CCTV. Within this new definition's context, surveillance is a critical variable in the rise of nation states and a "new orderof global capitalism" or the so-called "society of control" (Giles Deleuze as quoted in Ericson & Haggerty, p. 4).

Surveillance technolgies operate through processes of "disassembling and assembling", whereby technologies breakdown people into

a series of discrete information which are stabilized and captured according to pre-established classification criteria. They are then transported to a centralized location to be reassembled and combined in ways that serve institutional agenda. (Ericson & Haggerty, 2006, p. 4)

That is, the information is being stored for possible long and short-term retrieval, integration, combination, and coordination with various systems and components.

CCTV as Surveillance Devise

Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) is one of the commonly used electronic surveillance equipments used in advanced countries. In the United Kingdom, which is one of the most covered countries in Europe, has some 4 million CCTV systems. Most literature on the debate refers to the UK's use of CCTV. Although CCTV has multiple uses, British law enforcement agencies use it to address deviant social behavior, and investigating street crimes albeit some have questioned its effectiveness in producing evidence. (Robinson et al, 2010, p. 18). In general, CCTV has potential application for crime prevention, crime detection as it occurs, post event analysis, public safety, and counter terrorism.

CCTV is an example of the surveillance technologies that Ericson and Haggerty described. Its assemblage consists of a video camera that may have tilt and zoom capabilities, digital recording devices, audio monitoring. They may even have biometrics that allows facial feature comparison with the features of criminals and terrorists in the databases. Its consistent use results to increased visibility and monitoring of people or populations. Users for the technology may determine a group's surveillance profile and attempt to manipulate and control that group. (Ericson & Haggerty, 2006, p. 6).

The CCTV may therefore have the capabilities to violate all dimensions of privacy. It monitors environment and individuals, may listen in to conversation if it is equipped with audio monitoring, may link with a databases to gather personal information if it has biometric capabilities, may invade private space if it has zooming capabilities, and may capture images as stills or video clips.

Social Outcomes

Ericson & Haggerty (2006, p.6) identified three types of social outcomes from the use of surveillance technologies: unintended consequences, stakeholders' politics, and politics of resistance. The unintended consequences relates to the way people adapt to their environment and incremental changes. It may involve the development of totalitarian controls, violation of privacy, creation of new forms of inequities, and lack of mechanisms for accountability.

Stakeholders' politics of surveillance refers to efforts to control the volume (size and extent) and configuration of surveillance. Stakeholders include the lawmakers, who can prohibit, regulate, or do nothing about it; users such as the police and the military; privacy advocates; and civil libertarians, and institutional representatives. Although there are many dimensions of stakeholders politics, Ericson & Haggerty (2006, p. 8) focused on protection of privacy rights, effectiveness, technology, identity errors, and function creeps.

Resistance politics refers to "localized efforts to get by in the face of monitoring: to thwart a particular system, to live anonymously within its gaze or to engage in any number of misdirection ploy" (Ericson & Haggerty, 2006, p. 20). Resistance strategy include switching, blocking, distorting, piggy-backing, discovery, avoidance, refusal, masking, breaking, co-operation and counter-surveillance (Ericson & Haggerty, 2006, p. 20). The individuals who engage in resistance politics are themselves usually knowledgeable in the technologies and thus able to evade and resists them. For example, smearing mud on license plate or using platic covers that block photo radars is a way of resisting surveilance devices.

Protection of privacy rights may seek to prevent violations and or seek legal claims for violations of privacy. Assuming the existence of laws protecting privacy, pursuing legal channels would however be difficult when applied to CCTV. Foremost, CCTV cameras are usually located in public domains when used by law enforcement, and within the domains of institutions and businesses when placed by private actors. The domains are public. Secondly, these law enforcement agencies and private institutions protect data gathered from CCTV and other surveillance devices because there are privacy laws. Under normal circumstances, individuals "captured" by surveillance devices would have no way of knowing what aspects of their public activities have been "captured" by the devise.

Preventing the use of CCTV to violate privacy, intentionally or unintentionally, may translate to banning or regulating its use. Admittedly, the notion of discarding an already available technology with purported multiple uses because there are risks of misuse and abuse is not a rational and practical idea. More so, when one considers that criminals and terrorists could be technologically equipped. Institutions and people counterterrorism responsible for law enforcement and counterterrorism need the advantage that technology could provide.

One would also need to prove that the technology is ineffective. That is, it does not contribute to its purported uses. Assuming that one is able to produce the empirical evidences, proving the technology ineffective would only prompt manufacturer to improve their R&D so their product could be effective. Ericson & Haggerty (2006, p. 13) noted that "more effective" products may also translate to more intrusive ones.

If one is to accept that the CCTV and other surveillance technologies are "here to say," the best option would be regulation. Regulation may translate to defining who may use CCTV, operate it, have access to data it gathers, and how they should use data gathered. CCTV is inanimate. By itself, it is harmless. The potential for harm comes from how operators handle data gathered by the devices and how institutional actors integrate CCTV data with other systems and components. Operators could misuse CCTV by voyeuristic monitoring. Norris and Armstrong (1999 as cited in Ericson & Haggerty, 2006, p. 15) provide evidence of voyeurism by British CCTV operators. Below are two examples of misuse and abuse of CCTV and or surveillance devices.

Example 1: A friend who formerly worked as a security officer in a downtown Toronto office complex recounts how the predominantly male CCTV camera operators passed the time by scrutinizing and judging the women they monitored on their screens, zooming in on legs, breasts or other body parts that caught their fancy. Particularly titillating incidents were occasionally recorded, with videotapes being traded across shifts much like playing cards. (Ericson & Haggerty, 2006, p.15)

Example 2: A November 1997 article in the Washington Post reported that District of Columbia police officers were involved in the practice of blackmailing prominent men and women who were homosexuals but kept their sexual orientation a secret. This practice was known as "fairy shaking." The officers would approach the individuals, and extort money from the victims under the threat of public exposure. The officers involved included high-ranking members of the DC police department, and exposure of the case resulted in the resignation of the police chief. This extortion was made possible by monitoring bars that catered to homosexuals and by querying the motor vehicles license databases to determine the owners of cars arriving at the bars. (Electronic Privacy Information Center)

The foregoing misuse and abuse show the need for law enforcement agencies and security departments to develop ethics in surveillance, screen and train their operators, and implement mechanisms for ensuring that operators and users respect the individuality and privacy of people CCTV monitors. This become a real problem in countries where law enforcement lack professionalism. The examples also show that the potential for abuse and misuse will always be present because human beings operate and use these technologies. Humans are fallible.


Violation of privacy is only one of many issues related to the use of surveillance technologies. Likewise, CCTV is only one type of surveillance devices. Banning the production and use of CCTV will not remove the threat to privacy because other technologies also threaten privacy. Banning the production and use of all technologies that threaten privacy is as paranoid as wanting to monitor people's activities all the time. The technologies are here to stay. The criminals and the terrorists have access to these technologies. Not giving the police and counterterrorist agencies the same access would be placing them at a great disadvantage.

Regulations, training, and the inculcation of surveillance ethics among authorized users could address possible misuse and abuse of CCTV to violate privacy. Regulations however may not be able to address unintended social consequences of a surveillance-oriented society. If one relates unintended consequences to shame, privacy, and moral consciousness, one may see or discern that familiarity to the presence of CCTV or surveillance devices in one's environment has the potential of desensitizing people to the fine boundaries between the private and public domains. While we could only talk of potentialities, we could also see evidences of diminishing notions of privacy in the posting of online diaries, reality TV, web cameras in the bedroom, and the posting of photos in Facebook that older generation would likely describe as inappropriate. However, these trends are the social outcomes of many variables, of which surveillance may or may not be one. Definitely, the acceptance of information technologies such as computers and internet is one of the contributing variables. One could say that diminishing notions of privacy are reflective of the generational evolution of values and attitudes. However, diminishing notions of privacy are also reflective of one's state of consciousness and morality.

Criminality and terrorism are social and political outcomes in themselves. If one is to accept the behaviorist notion that environments breed criminals and terrorists, then the appropriate focus of programs that seek to promote peace and order should logically be in the creation of environments that develops individuals' local, national, and international citizenships. This is not within the mandate of law enforcement and counterterrorism agencies to address alone. It is a collective responsibility that begins with mutual respect for individual differences and private spaces, where people could contemplate and discover their Self-hood. When individuals are in touch with the Self, their notions of right and wrong become clearer.


The issue of CCTV vs. Privacy is not a simple one. There is a need for law enforcement and counterterrorism agencies to use surveillance devices just as there is a need for individuals to protect their privacy. Since CCTV is only one of many surveillance devices with the potential of violating privacy, banning it would not likely address issues regarding privacy. The challenge of maintaining a healthy balance between the appropriate use of surveillance devices by law enforcement/counterterrorism agencies and the protection of individual privacy demands multiple approaches involving all stakeholders. On the part of lawmakers, there is a need to regulate the use of surveillance devices and hold surveillance data users accountable. On the part of surveillance device operators and users of surveillance data, there is a need to self-regulate and self impose some form of ethics in surveillance. On the part of individuals in society, there is a need to reassess their boundaries and exercise care in protecting and preserving their private domains.