Schneier: CCTVs don't make us safer

Bruce Schneier has written an outstanding essay for CNN on why sticking CCTV cameras on every corner doesn't make us safer, and can make us less safe by opening us up to abuse, and by causing police resources to be misallocated. This is required reading for the twenty-first century. Bruce points out that where there's a specific threat in a specific place -- casinos worried about cheats, shops worried about shoplifters, parking garages worried about skulking muggers -- CCTVs have some use. But as a catch-all solution to crime, they just don't work well enough to justify their expense in resources and liberty.

Pervasive security cameras don't substantially reduce crime. This fact has been demonstrated repeatedly: in San Francisco, California, public housing; in a New York apartment complex; in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; in Washington; in study after study in both the U.S. and the U.K. Nor are they instrumental in solving many crimes after the fact.

There are exceptions, of course, and proponents of cameras can always cherry-pick examples to bolster their argument. These success stories are what convince us; our brains are wired to respond more strongly to anecdotes than to data. But the data are clear: CCTV cameras have minimal value in the fight against crime.

Although it's comforting to imagine vigilant police monitoring every camera, the truth is very different, for a variety of reasons: technological limitations of cameras, organizational limitations of police and the adaptive abilities of criminals. No one looks at most CCTV footage until well after a crime is committed. And when the police do look at the recordings, it's very common for them to be unable to identify suspects. Criminals don't often stare helpfully at the lens and -- unlike the Dubai assassins -- tend to wear sunglasses and hats. Cameras break far too often.

Spy cameras won't make us safer