World's Greatest Prying Eyes

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How would you like to be on television? You may not have a choice. As CBS News Correspondent Mark Phillips reports, cameras installed to combat crime are encroaching on personal privacy.


Some people expect to have their picture taken. Prince Charles and his usually private companion Camilla set off a barrage of shutters whenever they pop up in public. But they are not the most photographed people in Britain.

The most photographed people in Britain are normal people going about normal lives. From cameras situated on rooftops, cornices, trees or disguised street lamps, almost everybody in Britain is being spied on almost every day.

According to every international survey, Britain leads the world in the use of closed circuit television cameras in public spaces. Criminologists estimate the total number of cameras at around a million.

To walk in front of London's Victoria Station is to be within view of perhaps a dozen cameras. While most people have come to accept, even welcome the security they offer, not everyone does.

Simon Davies is with Privacy International, an organization that opposes public surveillance. "It completely destroys the idea of freedom of assembly, freedom of movement. That's got to fly in the face of the sort of constitutional protections that we fought for for centuries," says Davies.

Yet the closed circuit systems were developed to provide another kind of protection -- protection from IRA terrorism for example, or protection from crime.

Adrian Grimmitt of the Gloucestershire Police Department says he uses the systems because they work. "It's certainly proven to reduce crime. In fact, the car crime in the town is reduced by 95 percent."

And if you thought you could get away from the incessant prying eye by leaving the nasty big city and coming to some charming little town, you'd be wrong. Surveillance cameras have infiltrated rural areas as well.

And the technology is getting better. Face-recognition software can pick repeat offenders out of the crowd.

Whether the video surveillance actually reduces crime or merely moves it elsewhere out of camera range is still a matter of public debate here. But if you're out on Britain's public streets, minding your own business or intent on crime, it pays to know you are being watched.
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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