Opponents of CCTV point out the loss of privacy of the people under surveillance, and the negative impact of surveillance on civil liberties. Furthermore, they argue that CCTV displaces crime, rather than reducing it. Critics often dub CCTV as "Big Brother surveillance", a reference to George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, which featured a two-way telescreen in every home through which The Party would monitor the populace. Civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch have published several research papers into CCTV systems. In December 2009, they released a report documenting council controlled CCTV cameras.
More positive views of CCTV cameras have argued that the cameras are not intruding into people's privacy, as they are not surveiling private, but public space, where an individual's right to privacy can reasonably be weighed against the intended benefits of surveillance. However, both the United States Supreme Court in Katz v. United States and anti-surveillance activists have held that there is a right to privacy in public areas. Furthermore, while it is true that there may be scenarios wherein a citizen's right to public privacy can be both reasonably and justifiably compromised, some scholars have argued that such situations are so rare as to not sufficiently warrant the frequent compromising of public privacy rights that occurs in regions with widespread CCTV surveillance. For example, in her book Setting the Watch: Privacy and the Ethics of CCTV Surveillance, Beatrice von Silva-Tarouca Larsen argues that CCTV surveillance is ethically permissible only in "certain restrictively defined situations", such as when a specific location has a "comprehensively documented and significant criminal threat" (p. 160). Her central reasoning is that widespread CCTV surveillance violates citizens' rights to privacy and anonymity within the public sphere by jeopardizing both their liberty and dignity. She concludes that CCTV surveillance should therefore be reserved for specific circumstances in which there are clear and reasonably demonstrated benefits to its implementation and few ethical compromises.
Questions are also raised about illegal access to CCTV recordings. The Data Protection Act 1998 in the United Kingdom led to legal restrictions on the uses of CCTV recordings, and also mandated their registration with the Data Protection Agency. In 2004, the successor to the Data Protection Agency, the Information Commissioner's Office clarified that this required registration of all CCTV systems with the Commissioner, and prompt deletion of archived recordings. However, subsequent case law (Durant vs. FSA) has limited the scope of the protection provided by this law, and not all CCTV systems are currently regulated. Private sector personnel in the UK who operate or monitor CCTV devices or systems are now considered security guards and have been made subject to state licensing.
A 2007 report by the UK's Information Commissioner's Office, highlighted the need for the public to be made more aware of the "creeping encroachment" into their civil liberties created by the growing use of surveillance apparatus. A year prior to the report Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, warned that Britain was "sleepwalking into a surveillance society".
In 2007, the UK watchdog CameraWatch claimed that the majority of CCTV cameras in the UK are operated illegally or are in breach of privacy guidelines. In response, the Information Commissioner's Office denied the claim adding that any reported abuses of the Data Protection Act are swiftly investigated.
In Canada, the use of video surveillance has grown very rapidly. In Ontario, both the municipal and provincial versions of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act outline very specific guidelines that control how images and information can be gathered by this method and or released.
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