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Surveillance as the Answer to the Crime Issue Essay

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Updated: May 29th, 2021

Surveillance is the concept that is widely used today in the context of developing strategies for preventing crimes and guaranteeing security. Thus, surveillance is the process of gathering and analyzing information to prevent criminal activities and develop an adequate response to illegal actions through supervising. Nowadays, researchers pay attention to the development of a new “surveillance society” because of the active use of advanced technologies and cameras in different spheres of people’s lives for control (McCahill 2015; Monahan 2016). One of the main features of the “surveillance society” is the use of closed-circuit television (CCTV) that allows for detecting and preventing crimes (Alexandrie 2017). Despite the positive outcomes of using surveillance approaches for guaranteeing security and social stability, researchers and experts tend to agree that surveillance also has disadvantages concerning such aspects as privacy, cost, and effectiveness (Welsh, Farrington & Taheri 2015). Although greater surveillance is actively used for crime prevention in the United Kingdom among other countries, this approach is not a desirable or appropriate answer to the crime problem because of the privacy issue, high costs, and questionable effectiveness.

Effects of Surveillance on Privacy

Modern surveillance methods cannot be viewed as appropriate in all settings and situations because the active use of technologies, including CCTV and software, can intrude on the privacy of people without their consent. According to Monahan (2016), the use of “big data” and online surveillance approaches for crime prevention can violate people’s rights to their privacy and autonomy despite the purpose of maintaining the social order. Welsh, Farrington, and Taheri (2015) stated that these concerns are associated with the legal use of CCTV in public areas and settings that can be discussed as private. For instance, the use of CCTV cameras in car parking zones is often discussed by people as reasonable when the use of cameras in shopping malls provokes questions. Thus, speaking about surveillance and CCTV, people expect that these methods will be used without violating their privacy.

The problem is that the development of the “surveillance society” poses more questions about people’s privacy in this context. For instance, in the United Kingdom, “there are approximately 1.85 million public CCTV cameras” that are used in public places “with the average Briton caught on camera approximately 70 times each day” (Welsh, Farrington & Taheri 2015, p. 112). This situation can be associated with privacy concerns because the location of some cameras can be inappropriate to protect citizens’ rights. Another problem is the illegal collection of personal data online to form “big data” bases (Cayford & Pieters 2018). Therefore, opponents of greater surveillance accentuate the weaknesses of these methods about the privacy issue.

Costs of Using Surveillance to Prevent Crimes

Despite promoted advantages of CCTV and other surveillance approaches, the costs of using thousands of cameras in public places and adding more cameras each year are rather high. Extremely high costs are also associated with using computer programs and databases for preventing terrorist attacks and associated crimes. The development of surveillance technologies is intense, and such projects are widely supported by governments in the context of national security programs (Cayford & Pieters 2018). However, researchers doubt regarding real profits and outcomes of using innovative surveillance methods actively in terms of associated costs.

Therefore, recent studies in the field are based on providing the cost-benefit analysis of using surveillance approaches in the United Kingdom and other countries. The results of these studies demonstrate that such surveillance measures as the use of CCTV cameras, online surveillance in the workplace, the formation of security guards, and improved street lighting are often expensive, but the percentage of cases when these methods work effectively is still low (Monahan 2016; Welsh, Farrington & Taheri 2015). Thus, it is often recommended to use the most cost-efficient methods for surveillance that can guarantee positive outcomes for preventing and addressing crimes without violating privacy.

Surveillance Measures and Effectiveness

Modern advanced methods of surveillance are usually discussed as highly effective because of the possibilities to control the order in public areas, assist police in their investigation, and find criminals. However, studies indicate that surveillance measures do not work equally effectively in all settings where they are used. For example, Alexandrie (2017) noted that crime prevention and reduction as a result of using CCTV and other surveillance methods can be observed only in some places, and crimes can be reduced only by 24%-28% in these cases. Moreover, the study in the United Kingdom demonstrated the statistically significant role of video surveillance only in two cases out of 13 involved projects (Alexandrie 2017). These data make the question of the effectiveness of using surveillance for resolving the problem of crime rather debatable. It seems that it is almost impossible to assert that surveillance measures lead to desirable effects in all settings.

It is important to pay attention to the fact that CCTV cameras, security guards, place managers, and other control approaches can even contribute to committing crimes because of accentuating unprotected or uncontrolled areas. Thus, the visibility of CCTV cameras is important for protecting people’s privacy, but this approach does not work effectively for preventing crimes because of criminals’ strategies to avoid these cameras (Welsh, Farrington & Taheri 2015). Moreover, researchers have different data regarding the role of using surveillance measures, including CCTV cameras, in decreasing crime rates according to police reports (McCahill 2015; Monahan 2016). The numbers related to crime decreases start from 30% up to 73%, but these results tend to depend on a variety of factors, not only the use of surveillance technologies (Alexandrie 2017). Therefore, one more argument for stating that greater surveillance cannot be discussed as an appropriate measure for addressing the problem of crime is the unproven effectiveness and the lack of research to discuss the problem from different perspectives.

Surveillance and Security

Although there are many arguments that surveillance methods based on technologies, online surveillance measures associated with the use of “big data,” CCTV, the use of guards, and other approaches are costly and having questionable effectiveness in different contexts, these methods are still used for guaranteeing security. According to the reports of the UK government and police authorities, the implemented surveillance technologies work effectively to protect citizens and guarantee order in public places while preventing crimes (Cayford & Pieters 2018; McCahill 2015). Furthermore, the use of these technologies in private places is also recommended. Surveillance allows people to feel safe while being in public places, as is reported by respondents in many studies (Welsh, Farrington & Taheri 2015). Nevertheless, the question of security guaranteed with the help of surveillance is as debatable as privacy, cost, and effectiveness aspects.

The problem is that CCTV and other surveillance measures often cannot be utilized appropriately to prevent crimes. For example, the visible presence of CCTV cameras can “give potential victims a false sense of security and make them more vulnerable if they relax their vigilance or stop taking precautions” (Welsh, Farrington & Taheri 2015, p. 115). From this perspective, the use of surveillance measures should be discussed only as one of the methods to contribute to preventing crimes and guaranteeing security, but the focus on greater surveillance cannot potentially lead to higher results.

Conclusion

Even though supporters of surveillance measures accentuate their role in addressing the problem of crime while focusing on the aspect of security, it is possible to conclude that greater surveillance should not be viewed as an adequate response to the problem in the context. The reason is that recent studies conducted in the United Kingdom and other countries provide conclusions that surveillance is threatening to people’s privacy in many cases, especially with the focus on online surveillance and the issue of “big data.” Furthermore, the use of CCTV cameras and other similar methods is costly. Finally, the effectiveness of surveillance approaches should be supported concerning more studies in the field. From this point, despite the obvious positive effects of surveillance on police activities and security strategies, there are still areas for further research and improvement, and greater surveillance cannot be discussed as the most effective method to cope with crime rates in the United Kingdom and other states. Therefore, the creation of the “surveillance society” seems to have both advantages and disadvantages to consider.

Reference List

Alexandrie, G 2017, ‘Surveillance cameras and crime: a review of randomized and natural experiments’, Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention, vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 210-222.

Cayford, M & Pieters, W 2018, ‘The effectiveness of surveillance technology: what intelligence officials are saying’, The Information Society, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 88-103.

McCahill, M 2015, ‘Theorizing surveillance in the UK crime control field’, Media and Communication, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 10-20.

Monahan, T 2016, ‘Built to lie: investigating technologies of deception, surveillance, and control’, The Information Society, vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 229-240.

Welsh, BC, Farrington, DP & Taheri, SA 2015, ‘Effectiveness and social costs of public area surveillance for crime prevention’, Annual Review of Law and Social Science, vol. 11, pp. 111-130.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Surveillance as the Answer to the Crime Issue." May 29, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/surveillance-as-the-answer-to-the-crime-issue/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Surveillance as the Answer to the Crime Issue'. 29 May.

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