Video surveillance is big in China and getting bigger

Surveillance cameras are seemingly everywhere in Chongqing, a huge metropolis in southwest China, making it the most-surveilled city in the world. Eight of the top 10 cities with the most CCTVs are in China. (American Spa)

Talk about city surveillance.

While some U.S. cities such as San Francisco have banned facial recognition and others worry whether surveillance cameras in public places invade personal privacy, the sprawling metropolis of Chongqing in southwestern China boasts a total of 2.58 million surveillance cameras.

In a city of 15.3 million people (with 30 million in the metropolitan area) that’s about 168 cameras per 1,000 people, making it the world’s most surveilled city, according to a recent analysis by Comparitech.

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Of the top 10 cities in the survey, eight are in China, with London and Atlanta the only cities in the Western hemisphere in the top 10. Atlanta finished in the 10th spot, with 7,800 cameras for 501,178 people or 15.5 cameras per 1,000 people. London finished in the sixth spot, with 627,707 cameras for 9.1 million people, or nearly 74 cameras per 1,000.

Of the 120 major cities across the globe that were analyzed, other high-ranked U.S. cities included Chicago, which finished in 14th place with 13 cameras per 1,000 people (35,000 for 2.67 million residents ) and Washington DC finished 29th with 5.6 cameras per 1,000 (4,000 for 713,000 residents). New York, which has boasted its use of surveillance cameras, finished 58th (with 11,000 cameras for 8.6 million people). Outside of the U.S., Sydney finished 15th and Moscow finished 19th. Hong Kong finished 27th.

The study also found that the correlation between the use of surveillance cameras and crime prevention was “weak.”

“A higher number of cameras just barely correlates with a higher safety index and lower crime index,” the study said. “Broadly speaking, more cameras don’t necessarily result in people feeling safer.”

Overall, China’s use of surveillance cameras far outranks any other nation, with nearly one camera soon for every two people, according to Comparitech.  The country has about 1.4 billion people and will have up to 626 million cameras in use by 2020.

The South China Morning Post reported that the closed-circuit TV cameras are evident “almost everywhere” in Chongqing, a mountainous city at the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers. The cameras are used to monitor traffic, prevent theft and monitor public safety in parks.

Chongqing ranked highest partly because of a crackdown on organized crime and gangsters from about 2007 to 2012. Or it could be that Chongqing has a prominent role in the Skynet Project, a national surveillance system for putting 20 million cameras in public places across the country, according to state media. There are plans to add millions more.

Skynet is described as “the eyes that safeguard China,” according to state media. The program has won the scrutiny of Human Rights Watch. However, some residents of Chongqing find the number of surveillance cameras to be a good thing, according to the South China Morning Post. More surveillance cameras give people “a sense of security, and there are fewer crimes,” one cab driver told the publication.

Another cab driver said as long as surveillance cameras don’t shoot inside his bedroom and bathroom, facial recognition is not a problem. “Why do we need personal privacy in public spaces?” the second cab driver asked.

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