It is often said that Britons are amongst the most spied upon people in the world. CCTV cameras loom on every high street. But monitoring and surveillance isn’t limited to cameras, monitoring of e-mails and internet use is rife and most company phones contain apps that will tell employers exactly where their staff are at any given time. However security firms provide an invaluable service and most people are willing to sacrifice some freedoms in exchange for safety and security. In this article, Ed Macfarlane, MD of Cordant’s security division explains the ins and outs of surveillance in 2015
It is estimated that there are almost two million CCTV cameras operating across the UK, roughly one for every 30 people. Other estimates have placed the total number at almost four million, which would be one for every 15 people. The overwhelming majority of these are owned and operated by private companies.
The prevalence of cameras is generally supported by the public however, international research firm YouGov conducted a survey in which 93 per cent of respondents said they approved of cameras being placed in banks, 89 per cent favoured their use on tube trains, 86 per cent wanted them outside pubs and 84 per cent liked having them on high streets.
Approval ratings however plummet when it comes to other styles of monitoring. A whopping 82 per cent actively disapprove of microphones listening to people in the same locations and people are pretty much equally split when it comes to regular, wide scale fingerprinting. Even with straight up cameras, which we have all become used to, the more private the environment the less people feel comfortable with being watched.
But despite permeating just about every aspect of our lives the security industry still suffered as much as every other sector after 2008. “During recent years the security systems industry has faced turbulent times,” Macfarlane explains. “Since the economic downturn of 2008 revenue has dramatically recovered, peaking during the London 2012 Olympics. Profits dropped throughout the recession due to a fall in public and private construction activity and a decline in consumer and commercial spending.”
Though obviously a bad thing, terrorism and public fear of violence has actually been a good thing for security firms. At least for their bottom lines. 9/11 and 7/7 both caused panic and saw an increase in monitoring and security efforts on both sides of the Atlantic. Macfarlane expands: “Growth has been driven by the improvement of the economy and the rise of public concern regarding crime and terrorism, even though crime has been reported to have reduced over the past five years. Another factor benefitting the industry is the increased amount of outsourcing from government authorities to security service providers, such as the London Olympics.
“Also with the unfortunate rise of ISIS public fear of crime and terrorism is likely to rise. UK households are expected to continue to keep taking measures to secure their homes, protecting them from crime. This also includes public spending on protecting the public by increased spending on surveillance systems in parks, public transport and other public spaces.
“The future for the security systems industry looks bright. The economic recovery should bring with it more construction plans throughout the country and large investments in infrastructure should also bolster revenue. Governmental plans to invest £466 billion over the next decade in the electricity, communications, oil and gas and railway infrastructure all bring in their own security systems demands for the industry to thrive.
“Revenue for the industry is thought to rise to £989m by 2020, from £816.1m in 2015.”
But with all the growth in the security sector and the rapid advances in security technology will people still have the same role to play as they have historically? This is true of other industries as well. Everyone has surely heard the joke about in the future planes being staffed by a computer, a pilot and a dog. The computer will fly the plane, the pilot is there to feed the dog, and the dog is there to bite the human if he tried to touch anything. Driverless cars are clearly on the way and robots performing operations is barely even newsworthy anymore. The average man or woman on the street might feel more comfortable with a human driver, pilot or surgeon, but the statistics show that humans are in fact far more error prone than machines in almost all areas.
Despite this Macfarlane is certain that the human role in the security industry will never be superseded. “Consider President Obama, he might be protected by retinal scanners and fingerprint scanners, blast doors and a litany of other technology, but can you imagine ever seeing him without his Secret Service escorts? People want their security providers utilising the best of both technology and people.”
He also points out that people will always be required to manage and oversee the technology, after all “you can have banks and banks of cameras, but someone has to watch the banks and banks of cameras.”