The Truman Effect: Unveiling The Truth Of Surveillance

Whilst some find the presence of CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) disconcerting, others find its presence somewhat reassuring. Nevertheless, when brazen demagogues, dogmatic members of the public and budding journalists take the opportunity to scaremonger, many are left unsure whether it is healthy to maintain some level of scepticism about having their movements tracked. With many feeling that their lives are being monitored daily, some have begun to compare 21st Century Britain with the totalitarian dictatorship George Orwell prophesied in his novel 1984.

It would be easy to hastily dispel this comparison as the rambling of a suspicious scholar. However, considering the following statistics, this notion may have more substance than originally contemplated. To uncover the truth about modern-day surveillance, we took a typical town or city with the basic amenities one would expect, from a school to a bank to public transport. Our data focused on exposing the average number of cameras found whilst using a heat bar to identify the number and the intensity of cameras placed in a single location. Our research exposed schools, banks, hospitals and the public transport system to contain the largest cameras!

How many cameras do we pass daily?

The average person is likely to be caught on CCTV 70 times daily. To put that into perspective, the UK has around 5.9 million CCTV cameras, including 750,000 in schools, hospitals and care homes. So let's consider the Truman Effect: Unveiling the truth of surveillance.

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Only a few days ago, the dark truth of surveillance was unveiled, as Richard Branson released official CCTV footage of politician Jeremy Corbyn to disprove his claims that he had nowhere to sit on a ‘ram-packed’ train. The legalities of this surveillance are now being scrutinised as a possible breach of data protection rules. All organisations and companies must ‘comply with the Data Protection Act and must have legitimate grounds for processing the personal data they hold.’

This recent event only proves organisations' unprecedented power over public surveillance and how far they are willing to go when exposing an event that needs supporting evidence. However, considering that the U.K. accounts for approximately 4.2% of the CCTV cameras used globally and that there is roughly ‘1 CCTV camera for every 11 people’ (Telegraph) in the UK, this notion may have a little more substance than originally first contemplated.

surveillance across the world stats

The past decade has seen societal paranoia grow substantially. It may therefore come as no surprise to discover that these findings largely correlate with the growth and advancement of technology. Perhaps deriving from using algorithms and data-memorising technology, many consumers have grown to distrust larger companies and institutions. Typically, customers complained that they were previously unaware of such features and that the knowledge companies pertaining to their preferences, location, and shopping habits felt like an infringement of their privacy.

In a recent study, Bebbington examined how social paranoia has affected the British population, categorising those surveyed via their levels of social trust, anxiety and mistrust. The results of his finding are tabled below:

social levels of paranoia surveillance uk

Prevention or displacement of crime?

Although a popular argument suggests that CCTV merely displaces crime rather than deterring it, the argument against their presence is somewhat flawed. The fact that crime is indeed being displaced illustrates their effective nature as a deterrent. If there were more cameras, one could argue there would be less criminal activity. Complete removal of CCTV would most likely proffer a sharp spike in crime, as statistically, most criminals are opportunists, and a lack of surveillance would make their task easier. Most burglaries happen at a property with a secluded space away from the public's prying eyes, who could report their illegal activity.

Cameras in plain view, in schools, offices and outside of other such establishments decreased crime significantly in the respective areas. Devices that were obscured or not obvious to the public could still provide reliable evidence that could be used in court after a crime had occurred. Intelligent technology CCTV technology is becoming increasingly more intelligent and versatile.

According to, schools have installed cameras with ‘facial recognition technology to identify and track those truant.’ Similarly, ‘ANPR Systems are used to monitor unauthorised vehicles. And, IP Cameras, as well as Access Control, identify perpetrators who may intend to harm children or staff.’ Close-circuit television intends to act as a deterrent, guard against criminal activity, and provide reliable and impartial evidence to be used in court. It is, therefore, somewhat fair to assume that CCTV fulfils its intended purpose and serves no malicious intent.

Why do we need this level of surveillance?

CCTV surveillance serves multiple functions, with its primary target being a means to fight crime. Through its presence alone, the public can enjoy greater safety. Some forms of crime typically occur in crowded public areas, such as abducting a child at a shopping centre. Video surveillance can aid in tracking the movements of such criminals and can alert the relevant authorities to step in and intervene on the public’s behalf.

In the case of a terror attack, an emergency or another disruptive incident, the emergency services can tactically use surveillance cameras to secure the area and effectively respond to the situation. In the case of the private sector, which is responsible for the largest proportion of CCTV cameras across the UK, it is fair to assume that, typically, business owners have no intention of prying on ‘Joe Average’. Managers are too busy to sit for hours, reeling through footage of you working. The cameras are simply installed as a preemptive measure should the company suffer a robbery or other unfortunate event.

Britain can therefore rest easy; our faces may crop up on camera occasionally, but if we ordinarily go about our daily routines, there is no need to attempt to evade the cameras – after all, that would be rather suspicious!