CCTV Data: is it fit for purpose?

Advances in and the proliferation of closed-circuit television (CCTV) provide a wealth of information which could aid the security of airports. In the United Kingdom, recent comments by the Surveillance Camera Commissioner and several police forces1 2, however, have questioned the usefulness and excessive deployment of CCTV. In this article, Colin Meads highlights the various challenges that need to be tackled to ensure that information from the use of CCTV is fit-for-purpose and appropriately utilised. The aviation industry should rise to the challenge not only to improve public safety, but also to minimise corporate litigation risks in the event of an incident.

The proliferation of CCTV has occurred in the UK to such extent that there are now an estimated 4 – 6 million CCTV cameras and over 52,750 registered CCTV systems. This level of increase and the Surveillance Camera Commissioner’s recent comments raise several key questions: “You can still maintain the balance of excellent surveillance but not have a propagation of surveillance that is actually useless,” he said. “Surveillance can be an extremely good thing and run well, it’s a useful tool for society”

What can be done with this information? How effective are organisations – including airports – at handling such volumes of information? And what is the relevance of the Surveillance Camera Commissioner’s comments?

The reasons for installing CCTV broadly fall into two distinct categories: a) those used in the prevention and detection of crime and b) those used for managing situations, whether it is traffic, people or safety. Also, CCTV has two different time functionalities: real-time monitoring or post-event analysis. Whatever the intended use, many systems can be useful in criminal investigations. Some careful thought from the outset, with lateral thinking on the part of the user and installer, can add significantly to the potential benefits of their system despite it not being the primary object of its deployment in the first place.

The Holy Grail is to harness such information, which is now being collected on an unprecedented scale, and make best use of it as quickly and efficiently as possible, thereby giving those using the information accurate and definitive answers. Digitalisation and the increase in memory capacity have opened up a whole new world, so much so that CCTV, hither to not part of the Data Protection Act, was encompassed in the new act of 1998. This coupled with the development in the quality of CCTV cameras and imagery has resulted in the advancement of analytics and the ‘intelligent CCTV’ concept.

Intelligent CCTV has, in reality, two distinct elements: the hardware creating quality imagery that it relays, and the software developed to then analyse the images.
Data analysis is only as good as the information being analysed: poor quality or inaccurate information will affect your results. But the analytical toolkit also needs to be up to the task to deliver accurate results. As a result, any security manager must ensure that both components are addressed.

Airport security is highly regulated by international and domestic law, convention and regulations. Great emphasis is placed on stopping prohibited articles and persons from gaining airside access and posing a threat. Little if any reference is made to CCTV and its deployment or use. Regular audits and inspections are conducted by the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to ensure that these regulations and directions are complied with. The Sir John Wheeler Report of 2002, and a subsequent House of Commons note to MP’s on aviation security in 2011, recommend that the DfT should survey CCTV and disseminate good practice.

Threats from terrorism have changed, however, particularly since 9/11. The rise in suicide bombers suggests that the one effective weapon in the arsenal – the terrorist’s fear of being caught or killed – has all but gone. The emphasis has, therefore, shifted significantly from tangible target hardening (such as the deployment of extra security staff and a more intense search regime) to softer, more intelligence-led early intervention. It is now accepted that we cannot stop every attack. Instead, with better intelligence and information the security forces can have a much better chance of intervention in the early stages of preparation, rather than confrontation at the point of delivery of the attack. One significant weapon in such early intervention is CCTV.