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Video surveillance in U.S. described as on par with China

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When it comes to video monitoring of citizens, the U.S. is nearly as bad as China, according to an analysis from research firm IHS Markit. Except in America, it's businesses doing the watching, not necessarily the government.

China, with 349 million security cameras last year, had one camera for every 4.1 people, IHS Markit found in a recent report. By comparison, the U.S. had 70 million surveillance cameras installed, which works out to 4.6 people per installed camera. 

"During the past few years, coverage of the surveillance market has focused heavily on China's massive deployments of cameras and artificial intelligence technology. What's received far less attention is the high level of penetration of surveillance cameras in the United States," report author Oliver Philippou, an analyst at IHS Markit, said in a note. "With the U.S. nearly on par with China in terms of camera penetration, future debate over mass surveillance is likely to concern America as much as China."

Cameras in China are heavily focused on public spaces and are bankrolled by the government with a goal of "providing widespread video surveillance coverage within public areas," Philippou wrote.

In the U.S., surveillance cameras were most common among private-sector retail and commercial establishments, such as in hotels, restaurants and office complexes.

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But that doesn't mean governments in the U.S. have stayed out of surveillance. Many American cities have been aggressive in putting in surveillance infrastructure, including Detroit, which recently installed cameras to monitor public housing residents, and Baltimore, whose police department conducted secret aerial surveillance of residents for several years. Police departments have also partnered with Amazon's Ring, a doorbell camera, to push the product among local homeowners, effectively encouraging citizens to monitor each other.

Rounding out the top five countries with the highest density of surveillance cameras are Taiwan (5.5 people per camera), the United Kingdom (6.5) and Singapore (7.1). 

There will be 1 billion cameras installed globally by 2025, IHS Markit predicts. The growth is being driven by technological advances, price competition among camera makers and more government funding thanks to a focus on public safety, Philippou said.

Proponents of surveillance say the presence of cameras deters crime, but so far there's little evidence they have had this effect. Civil rights advocates have warned that surveillance technology is easily abused to harass the innocent or invade people's privacy.

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