London and Atlanta join Chinese cities among those with most public surveillance cameras

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The cities with the most surveillance cameras in the word per capita are all in China, except for London and Atlanta, Georgia, according to a new report from tech research website Comparitech. Chinese cities made up the rest of the top 10, as well as several other spots on a global list of the 50 cities with the most prevalent surveillance.

Comparitech’s report on “The world’s most-surveilled cities” gives the dubious honor of most-watched city to Chongqing, in China’s southwestern Sichuan province, followed by Shenzhen and Shanghai, which both have more than 100 cameras per 1,000 people. The report also indicates that estimates on the number of CCTV cameras in China vary widely, and is increasing, so there may be one camera for every two people in China by next year, or less than a third of that number.

“China is aggressively restricting people’s freedom of movement within the country. CCTV cameras and face recognition have a big role to play in that,” Comparitech Editor Paul Bischoff told the South China Morning Post.

A comparison with crime statistics shows a fairly weak correlation between surveillance and the need for increased public safety.

The British Computer Society (BCS), meanwhile, has warned organizations against taking a “cavalier attitude” to using facial recognition technology to monitor crowds in public spaces. The advocacy group cites the risk of identity theft and a lack of ethical and rigorous safeguards around biometric processes.

BCS carried out consultations with IT professionals and identified 13 top concerns relating to the technology, from a lack of diversity in development teams to insecure data storage.

“Virtually every time we hear the same alarming worries about data governance practices,” says BCS Director of Policy Dr. Bill Mitchell. “This directly links to worries about the current cavalier attitude to facial recognition technology. For instance, misappropriated facial biometric data could lead to opportunities for virtual doppelgängers, and poorly captured biometric data can lead to cases of mistaken identity that can have dire consequences that are hard to correct. Much of the concern has been focused on the immaturity of the technology. An even bigger concern is what your biometric data is used for, or rather misused for, once it’s been captured and added to a database.”

The rapid proliferation of surveillance cameras with facial biometric technology, combined with a lack of regulation and dismal trial results in some police tests have prompted Telecoms.com to agree with Big Brother Watch’s claim that the use of the technology in UK shopping centers, museums, and conference venues has become an “epidemic.”

An investor in London’s King’s Cross development is seeking more information about the recently-revealed use of facial recognition across the 67-acre estate, the BBC reports.

The King’s Cross Estate was developed by property developer Argent, along with Hermes Investment Management, which is acting on behalf of BT Pension Scheme (BTPS), and an Australian pension fund, which holds a majority interest.

“We are looking into the reported use of facial recognition at King’s Cross and take this issue very seriously,” Hermes Investment Management said in a statement. “We are working closely with Argent to fully understand the extent and use of this technology.”

Allied Universal recently posted an ad for a CCTV operator that the BBC reports referred to duties including “To oversee and monitor the health, safety and welfare of all officers across the King’s Cross Estate using CCTV, Face watch and surveillance tactics.” The references to facial recognition and surveillance have since been removed. A spokesperson for the company told the BBC Allied Universal is aware of the controversy around the technology, and does not provide it.

The BBC also discovered that Facewatch provided facial recognition technology in the area previously, but it’s CEO says the company’s King’s Cross project ended three years ago.

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