With some of the most surveillance cameras per head of population, London is one of the most heavily surveilled cities in the world. London is often referred to as the CCTV capital of the world but officially reported figures tells only part of the story. While the UK has some of the toughest privacy laws on the planet, there isn’t an exact figure for how many surveillance cameras are there in the capital.

Estimating the number of surveillance cameras in London

Most surveillance cameras operated in London are owned by private individuals and businesses rather than government bodies. All the privately-owned CCTV cameras must be logged with the Information commissioner’s office if they are not used for domestic purposes. So, with no comprehensive record of surveillance cameras in operation, it can be difficult to estimate the number of CCTV cameras in London.

A 2002 survey conducted by McCahill and Norris estimated that there were around 500,000 CCTV cameras in use in London. The methodology used to conduct the survey is now considered to be flawed as it was based on a small sample. Hence, there are more than half a million CCTV cameras operating in London.

Surveillance cameras are used by various government bodies in London. The transport for the city operates 15,516 cameras across the London underground network and the City of London Police has 110 CCTV cameras in use. A survey conducted by civil liberties and privacy campaign group found that the City of London Council operated 651 surveillance cameras. There are 33 boroughs across London and a BBC survey in 2009 revealed that there were 7,431 surveillance cameras deployed by all of the councils in Greater London.

CCTV cameras operated by private owners in London

In the 2015 report, the British Security Industry Association (BSIA) suggested that CCTV camera numbers in the private sector could outnumber those used by government bodies by as much as 70 to 1. The survey covered the whole of the United Kingdom and its maximum estimate suggested that there was a surveillance camera for every 11 people in the country though it is said that the most likely figure was closer to one for every 14 people.

This would mean there are between 570,000 and 810,000 surveillance cameras in London with another 60,000 – 100,000 cameras in the wider urban area. Considering the figure of one for every 11 people and an increase in population, the number of CCTV cameras would rise to almost 1,000,000 by the end of 2025. Whatever the true figure, that’s a huge number of CCTV cameras monitoring activities of millions who live and work in London.

CCTV cameras in the London underground system

In order to ensure passenger safety and reduce crime in London’s busy subway system, there are an extensive number of surveillance cameras in operation to fight crime.

Recent studies revealed that there are 408 CCTV cameras in King’s Cross and St Pancras, monitoring over 81 million people per year. Here are the other top nine stations:

  • Oxford Circus – 309
  • Waterloo – 303
  • Green Park – 210
  • Elephant and Castle – 190
  • Bank/Monument – 182
  • Westminster – 177
  • Piccadilly Circus – 175
  • Wembley Park – 171
  • Canary Wharf – 167

Looking at the number of CCTV cameras, it’s no surprise that the result is an incredible amount of footage. But still, all the recording is held for two weeks.

As the crime rate tends to be higher in busy stations, such as King’s Cross and St Pancras as compared to Canary Wharf, there are more CCTV cameras in some places than others. Also, these are much larger stations that are always crowded due to tourism.

What does the future hold?

It is estimated that there are 25 million CCTV cameras around the globe and the United Kingdom has more CCTV activity than any other European country. It is also a well-known fact that the average person living in London will be recorded on camera 300 times in one day. An individual in the city doesn’t have to go far without being caught on camera.

If you take a closer look at the public sector, you will find that the golden age of CCTV growth has passed. There are only a few public areas in London that legitimately need CCTV monitoring and are not already under surveillance.

With the increased adoption of advanced features, such as facial recognition and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), the private sector will see continued growth in the use of CCTV cameras. 

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