According to a recent report in the Chinese state media, People’s Daily, the city of Beijing now has a CCTV network that covers ‘every corner’ of the city. The total amount of cameras sits at around 470,000.
Hilariously, and without any obvious trace of irony, the system’s official name is apparently ‘Sky net’.
So that’s all quite terrifying, but lest this post descend into a snide and patronizing, Western-style circlefreedomjerk, it should be noted that our friends Chicago and London are probably right now looking at Beijing and gleefully comparing notes; saliva dripping and surveillance boners raging.
Yes, it turns out that the two cities with the highest number of cameras after Beijing are London, with around 422,000, and Chicago, with at least 17,000 (aww, bless its little heart, it’s trying to play with the big boys!). Now, it goes without saying that because London and Chicago find themselves within the two founding countries of the official Bastions of Freedom Club, it must be assumed that our giant all-seeing electronic nets are nets of safety; while those of Crazy Oppressive China are nets of tyranny. Obviously.
The full top five list, though based on now slightly outdated figures (2011), looks like this:
1. Beijing, China (470,000)
2. London, UK (420,000)
3. Chicago, USA (> 17,000)
4. Houston, USA (numbers not exactly known due to Homeland Security protection, but owing to crime rate and population figures, estimates put it at around Chicago-level numbers)
5. New York, USA (> 4,450)
The figures for CCTV use throughout the world are annoyingly difficult to ascertain in many cases, but one fairly thorough study by the BBC revealed that in London the number of CCTV cameras per 1,000 people ranges from a minimum of about 0.25 in one borough, to a staggering 4 cameras per 1,000 in another borough (Wandsworth for those curious). The United Kingdom as a whole has about 6 million of the beady little square eyes peeing out at us. That approximates to one camera for every 11 people. As a proud owner of a tinfoil hat, this of course both disturbs and validates me.
An increasingly watched-over world like ours brings with it justified concerns over civil liberties. As such, it would be really nice if there were some clear and conclusive figures available on the efficacy and necessity of CCTV use in public spaces. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be the case, as currently extant studies often contradict themselves or aren’t nearly comprehensive enough; which means that any arguments to be had about this often devolve into subjectivity and personal philosophy. I’m not sure where everyone else stands on the issue, but personally I know two things:
1) I’m not packing away my tinfoil hat just yet, and
2) The hat is quite shiny and noticeable - easy to pick out in a crowd - so I’m definitely not going down to Wandsworth any time soon.