The World's 10 Most Surveilled Cities

CCTV surveillance is an important tool to reduce crime rates in cities.
CCTV surveillance is an important tool to reduce crime rates in cities.

The use of CCTV for public surveillance has developed considerably over the years in various parts of the world. Businesses such as banks were among the early adopters of CCTV for crime prevention and detection purposes. Shortly after that, cities, schools, and residential districts began installing CCTV systems to enhance security. Increasing terrorist attacks in various cities coupled with the advancement in CCTV technology has only pushed up the demand for surveillance systems by various governments. Today manufacturing CCTV cameras and facial recognition technology is a booming industry that is feeding a seemingly insatiable appetite. The technology is used to catch criminals and keep people safe, but people are increasingly getting concerned that the systems are being used to infringe civil liberties and result in a loss of privacy. CCTV camera surveillance is one of several techniques used by governments to monitor a population. One can, therefore, establish the level of surveillance on a city by identifying the number of installed CCTV cameras in the area. Research conducted by Comparitech estimated the number of CCTV cameras installed across 120 of the world’s most populated cities. The results of the research enabled the organization to identify the most surveilled cities in the world. Interestingly the study also revealed that there was no correlation between crime rates and the number of surveillance cameras.

Surveillance In Asian Cities

China has the most surveilled cities worldwide. Eight of the top ten cities with the highest estimated number of CCTV cameras are situated in the country. The use of such technology has been made a priority. China is dominating the surveillance systems industry and accounting for 45% of the industry’s global revenue. Many Chinese firms such as Dahua, Hikvision, and Megvii are reaping significant benefits from the industry. Experts believe that mass surveillance in China is a strategic tool that is connected to “deep-rooted insecurity” over the sustainability and longevity of the Chinese Communist Party. Technology offers a means of enacting repressive policies. Suppressing the population from any expression that could challenge the Chinese state ensures the political survival of the nation’s leaders and the party. Some of the Chinese cities featured on the list include Chongqing, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Tianjin, Jinan, Wuhan, Guangzhou, and Beijing. Chongqing has the highest level of surveillance globally. The city has 2,579,890 cameras that are used to watch 15,354,067 people; that translates to 168.03 cameras per 1,000. The city is ranked as safe with a crime index of just 33.18 in 2019. The city, however, has a poor freedom score of 11 out of 100. Indeed most of the Chinese cities on the list have an average freedom score of 11, indicating a significant limitation of civil liberties. The relationship between security and surveillance is, however, not entirely correlated. 

The city of Jinan, for example, is ranked as very safe with a crime index of just 15.93 despite having 73.82 cameras per 1000 people, 94.21 cameras per 1000 people less than Chongqing. Other Chinese cities that have relatively fewer surveillance cameras and are safer than Chongqing are Wuhan with a crime index of 21.18 despite having 60.49 cameras per 1000 people and Tianjin, which has a crime index of 29.15 and 92.87 cameras per 1000 people. Shenzhen has the second-highest number of surveillance cameras in the world after Chongqing and interestingly has the second-highest crime index at 43.29 among Chinese cities featured in the top ten. Analysis of the data reveals that there is no clear link between the number of CCTV cameras installed and the security. There is also no observable correlation between the number of cameras installed, and the crime index as all Chinese cities in the top ten have a freedom score of 11. For example, Chongqing has over four times the number of surveillance cameras as Beijing, which is ranked 8th, but both have a freedom score of 11. 

Authorities argue that cameras reduce crime and increase public safety. Civil liberty groups, however, criticize such systems as they are open to abuse and can be used to monitor critics. China is also increasingly utilizing Artificial Intelligence in surveillance. The country has adopted the use of facial recognition technology to monitor its population. The technology is powered mainly by the rise of cloud computing, precise digital cameras, and machine learning. Accuracy rates are, however, based on an unobstructed view of the person’s face. Researchers believe that the identification rate can drop by as much as 70%, depending on how the face can be viewed. Due to limitations of facial recognition technology, the country has begun testing gait recognition technology. China claims that gait recognition technology can identify people at a distance of 164 feet with 94% accuracy. It analyses a person’s body shape and movements. Observers believe that the new system is very difficult to beat. 

Surveillance In Europe 

London is the most surveilled western city in the world. The city is ranked sixth on the Comperritech’s list with 68.40 cameras per thousand people. London has twice as many cameras as Beijing. The city has an extensive network of CCTV cameras in operation to fight crime. Critical infrastructure such as the London Underground network is among the most surveilled with 15,000 CCTV cameras in the stations, and 7,500 cameras mounted on board the trains. Such infrastructure has, in the past, come under terrorist attacks hence the need for increased surveillance. The methodology used in the distribution of cameras in other areas is puzzling. For example, Lambeth is among the least surveilled boroughs in London despite being across the street from Wandsworth, which is one of the most closely watched boroughs in the city. It is worth pointing out that studies on surveillance have revealed that 90% of CCTV cameras in Britain are owned and operated by businesses, public sector organizations, quasi-government organizations, and private households. Despite the rather high level of surveillance, London has a freedom score of 93, the highest among cities on the top ten lists. Interestingly Beijing, Guangzhou, and Wuhan have lower freedom scores despite having fewer cameras per person compared to London. The city also has a crime index of 52.12, the second-highest on the list. 

Surveillance In The US

Atlanta city in Georgia is the most surveilled city in the United States. It is the second most surveilled Western city in the world after London. Atlanta suffered attacks in 1996 while it was hosting the summer games at Atlanta’s Olympic park in what was described as a pipe-bombing attack that killed one and injured 11 others. Some believe the attacks probably prompted increased surveillance in the city. The city currently has an estimated 15.56 cameras per 1000 people. The city also has the highest crime index among cities in the top ten at 62.64. Atlanta also has a freedom score of 86, the second-highest on the list. Only London has a higher freedom score despite having over four times the number of cameras per 1000 people.

Governing The Use Of Surveillance In The World

The use of AI surveillance is a controversial topic. With some experts stating that autocratic governments such as Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia are exploiting AI technology for mass surveillance. Other governments that have been called out for human rights violations are also utilizing technology to enhance repression. The use of technology in any given population carries the risk of misuse of the system to attain political objectives. There is, therefore, a need for the global community and governments across the world to develop rules on the use of surveillance to prevent misuse and to support human rights. 

The World's 10 Most Surveilled Cities

RankCitySurveillance cameras per 1000 inhabitants (2019)
6London 68.4

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