The Use Of Video Surveillance Criminology Essay

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"Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one" said Thomas Jefferson, the third president of United States, from 1801 until 1809. Definition: The video surveillance is a security system used for any type of monitoring. It consists in installing cameras in public or private spaces to watch them. The pictures obtained with this system are then viewed and sometimes archived.


The first system of video surveillance was installed by the big company "siemens AG ", in Germany, in 1942, to observe the launching of the rockets V-2². Then, the video surveillance was first developed in the United Kingdom, in order to reply to the attacks by the IRA (Irish Republican Army). Now, London is famous for being the city where individuals are the most watched by cameras, and the United Kingdom is the European country where the video surveillance system is the most important. The first experiments in this country, in the 70's and 80's, are originally on large scale programs in the early 1990's. During this period, video surveillance policies were developed and a lot of cameras were installed in many European cities.

Finally, we will analyse the French case. At the beginning, in France, Patrick Balkany took the initiative to introduce this kind of monitor in Levallois-Perret (near Paris). In 2007, the number of cameras was approximately valued at 350 000; and the government (Michèle ALLIOT-MARIE) wanted to triple this number for 2009, because she thought it was insufficient.

In this development context, the video surveillance system strives for being more and more modern, and, its use increases. The professionals admit that they install each year between 25 000 and 30 000 new video surveillance systems.


There are different sources of provisions:

In France, progressively, this system became framed by a legal structure and several provisions. The basis of this legal regime is the law of January 21st 1995, completed and revised by several decrees of October 17th 1996, July 28th 2006, and January 22nd 2008.

At the European level, on the 24th October 1995 a directive, in order to harmonise Member States within the protection afforded to everyone regardless the place of the treatments of its personal data are made, has been adopted by the European Union. Since January 28th 2007, there has also been an European Day of protection of personal data. It is the Council of Europe which organises this day and it is relayed in France, by a special committee: the CNIL: "Commission Nationale de l'informatique et des libertés" which means: "National committee of computer science and freedoms". Nowadays, each European member state has its own regulations about data processing and its own and independent supervisory authority. There are some regular meetings in Brussels and during them all these authorities try to harmonise their regulations and find some agreements.

Some international organisations, political or economic adopted some regulations too. For example, in 1980 the OECD: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or in 1981, the Council of Europe…



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Usually, the system of video surveillance consists of a number of cameras which are connected in a closed circuit television (CCTV). The pictures are sent to a central television monitor or/and (it depends of the system) recorded. Commonly, this installation includes a number of video cameras connected to a control room where operators watch a bank of television screens. Then, this system requires the intervention of individuals to watch the monitors or review the recording.

The balance sheet

Today, surveys of video surveillance system and statistics try to establish a balance sheet about the video surveillance policies. Since the beginning of the 2000's, most reports concluded that this system is a complete failure and it is totally inefficient. From now on, video surveillance is accepted by most people, and, the use of this kind of system still is a current affair but, it strives for reduce.

In fact, it raises some complicated issues. The opponents of video surveillance system think it is harmful for private life. It is a constant debate between security and respect for privacy. This system constitutes an affectation of some rights like the individual or collective freedoms.


Sign indicating a CCTV (UK)

The public must be aware that there is a video surveillance system within the place they are going in, and as a consequence they are going to be filmed.


Matter and question

After this presentation of the video surveillance system, we are going to try to answer to this question: Are the protection of personal datas and video surveillance system totally incompatible?

That's why we can focus firstly on the interests of using the video surveillance and its use; and secondly, on the affectation of basic human rights and especially the right to private life.

I/ The interests of using the video surveillance and its use

The video surveillance is a technology system of cameras arranged and used by public authorities in public or private places, in order to watch it. On one hand, we can focus on the fact that video surveillance is a security system used in many places. On the other hand, we are going to study whether this system is more efficient than a human being or not.

Goals and uses of video surveillance system

The goals of video surveillance system

There are several and diverse reasons to install a video surveillance system. According to its supporters, this system is a good manner to prevent robberies, crimes, assaults, thefts, crowd movements, and to preserve public safety. It can also operate a social control in order to protect individuals and properties. It is a way of dissuasion and a security element. This is an instrument used to prevent and prosecute disturbances in public order, and to promote and restore public security. These systems allow a lot of things and they are installed in many different cases.

The use of this system

Let's study some different contexts where we can find video surveillance system:

In some small or large shops and supermarkets, in order to count the customers going in and out.

Within the car parks: to keep an eye on the vehicle's displacements and to identify automatically the vehicle's registration patches.

In public buildings, famous and touristic places like museums or monuments: to prevent robberies or acts of vandalism.

In train stations: to point some objects, lost, left away or stolen.

On public roads: to prevent and detect an unlawful behaviour.

In airports: to facilitate searching minors or other missing people…

In public transport sector: to try to detect some breaches of regulation, speed limit excess, offences…

In stadiums, zenith: to keep an eye on certain events (concerts, matches…).

In other places like casinos, hospitals…

It is not only used to prevent insecurity in the cities, but also to prevent terrorism acts and to improve urban management.

Advantages compared to the human being surveillance

About technology…

Technology doesn't cease to improve. The possibilities of prevention are improved too. With the video surveillance system, you can see for example several times some pictures or watch them more slowly. Almost all of these systems have a recording system. You can analyse the pictures, the precision is better. This system is more secure than the human being eyes. There cannot be any confusion or disagreement between two or more people. All the pictures are true and you can keep them to use them. And, several observers can use it at the same time. You can use it by night and it is automatical. It works efficiently all days and nights, whereas guards can loosen their attention several times during few minutes. Certain things which couldn't be viewed by human beings could become visible with video surveillance. You can reproduce the pictures and make some zooms, and sometimes, automatic trackings are possible. This system is really ingenious and to certain aspects, more efficient than human being.

About proof…

For the same reasons, the video surveillance system is a better way to proove something than the human being testimony. We have some real clues with this kind of system; you can choose and select your picture and print it to bring it to the police. For the professionals, it is an essential tool for the investigations. It allows obtaining concrete results. It makes easier arrests and interventions of criminals or terrorists. But, in France, it is not a legal proof; it is only used to help and to make good progress in the investigations.

This system is also more discreet than a human being, at a shop's entrance for example. So, sometimes, people are not conscious to be filmed. They cannot adapt their behaviour. It is a more discreet system than to post somebody (guard, concierge, keeper…) at the entrance of a building for example.

About costs…

For sure, video camera is a very costly system; but, after few years, it seems more profitable to install it than to pay somebody during all days and nights to keep an eye on a place. It reduces the bills with the time. And, being more efficiently, you lose less money. I mean for example in a shop, there are less robberies so in conclusion, less losses. In shops which are not equipped with this system, there will be more thefts.

About justice and ethic aspects

Nowadays, discrimination is one of the main problems in our society. The video surveillance cameras can reduce it. In fact, because they cannot be conscious of anything, there is no more fair system. It always gets the police impartial clues. No judgment can take place whereas when there is only a person to keep an eye on a place, he can distort or interpret the facts in his way. And, it is not possible to get away with this fate. So, thanks to the recorder system, no discrimination can take place. All the interpretations are objective and nobody can be a victim of racial or religious discrimination…

So, it is obvious that video surveillance systems have more advantages than the human being one and it is used in a lot of cases and different places; but, the use of this system has to be framed by legal regulations.

II/ Critics and limits of the system

In fact, there are some limits in order to safeguard public freedoms of citizens, and more particularly privacy. It is a real important and controversial aspect of this system. It can constitute an affectation of some rights and endanger privacy. The legislator's role is to fix some limits to this reach.

On one hand, we are going to study an overall view of the drawbacks of this system, and, on the other hand, we can focus on the problem of privacy right's reach.

Drawbacks of the video surveillance system

According to its opponents, the video surveillance system has a lot of drawbacks:

It is an inefficiency system

In several surveys, the lack of efficiency has been proved. The video surveillance systems don't stop crimes but only move them to other places. For example, in front of a store, dealers used to do drug's traffic; if the store's director installs a video surveillance camera in front of his window-shopping, they are going to move and find another place to meet and do their traffic.

There are some associations which militate against video surveillance systems. This is the case for example of "Smile, you are being filmed". Their main argue is that this kind of system only serves as a measure of social control but, they do not have a real impact on criminality. Indeed, people feel in security when they know there is a video surveillance camera, but, the fact remains that a crime can take place.

Lots of associations and political groups think that the use of this system is an easiness solution to avoid the real problems of society.

It is a costly system

Even if with time, this system is certainly more profitable than the expenses of a guard, some states have spent a lot of money in installations of video surveillance cameras. For example, Great Britain have spent several millions of pounds to equip itself with the largest video surveillance system in Europe.

The negative balance sheet

In Great Britain, for instance, the proliferation of the number of cameras bumps into the lack of personnel to analyse the informations collected. This country spent a lot of money in these systems (they installed about 90 000 cameras in all the country), and only 3% of the offences are resolved thanks to them. People don't fear this kind of system because they think that it doesn't work; so in a long term, there is no dissuasion effect.

In France also, several initiatives bumped into the cost and installation's problem and they were a failure.

The denial of the innocence presumption

There is a famous principle in justice called the innocence presumption. It means that everybody must be considered as none guilty before having real clues. Every citizen should be placed in an innocent situation before being determinate as guilty. This principle of justice is reversed with the video surveillance system. Everybody is always considered as guilty, permanent and potential suspect. A person filmed during an offence, for example, has to prove that he is not involved in the facts. It is the opposite of the principle of innocence presumption where the police or the justice has to prove that you are guilty.

Nearby these drawbacks, the main objection is the affectation of some fundamental rights and especially the right to private life.

The privacy's problem and the way to improve it

The affection of some rights

The critics of video surveillance policies reproach these systems that they are harmful to civil and public liberties. The right of privacy is probably the most affected by these installations, but there are some other rights which are also affected. For example, the right to free movement; this right is provided by the article 2 of additional protocol n°4 of the European Convention on Human rights (ECHR). It means that individuals are allowed to move lawfully in public places within a state's territory. This freedom concerns not only the right to move freely in the physical space, but also the right to move without constantly being traced. Thereby this right is affected by the video surveillance camera's use.

The right to private life

This right is protected at the international level by the article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and by the article 8 of the ECHR. According to the first paragraph of the article 8 of the ECHR, each citizen has the right to see his private and family life respected. According to the second paragraph, some interferences are possible only if they are justified and in accordance to the law and specially in the interest of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

It is also protected at the national level, especially by the constitution, the article 2 of the Declaration of the Human Rights in 1789, and the article 9 of the civil code. This level is in a better position to assess what measures are necessary or not.

When somebody enters in a public space and knows that he is filmed, he will obviously adapt his behaviour and adjust his appearance. The possibility of being seen by others or being scrutinized modifies for sure the attitude. In general, the main problem is the recording of datas especially without the individual's consents. These recorded pictures can be used with an illegitimate or unlawful goal (advertising, promotional…). It can be really detrimental and endanger the privacy, the honor, the reputation, the modesty and the dignity of people.

Ways to improve it

Proportionality principle

This principle is that the surveillance must serve a sufficiently serious aim to be justified. If one video surveillance system is installed, the use of the collected data should be restricted to the aim of the installation. The measure has to be necessary and adapted to the needs. The freedom is the rule and the police measure should be the exception.

For example, installing a video surveillance device in public toilets in order to control the prohibition of smocking is not a proportionate measure.

Other examples

. About the reaches of employees' interests, the law "Aubry" on December 31st 1992 about the work, specifies that the company committee has to be informed and consulted before the installation of a video surveillance device.

. The law of January 21st 1995 has been authorized by the constitutional council only if it was completed with a guarantee safeguarding the individual freedom. (Decision of the constitutional council on January 18th 1995).

. On public roads, the video surveillance cameras are not allowed to watch within the houses.

. The public has to be informed in a clearly and permanently manner that they are filmed when they are.

. To install a new system of video surveillance, an authorization is required by the prefect or the prefect of police.

To conclude our study, we can say that the protection of personnel datas and the video surveillance system are not totally incompatible. Even if some basic human rights are affected, the video surveillance devices have a lot of interests and advantages in its use, and it is regulated by a strict legal framework. It is necessary to safeguard all of these constitutional principles. This debate between video surveillance and privacy is an old one and was the subject of a novel in 1984, called Big Brother and written by Georges Orwell. It is still a topical debate because the French Senate decided on April 7th 2010 to multiply by three the number of video surveillance devices from 20 000 to 60 000 for the year 2011.