20/11/2013 07:08 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

CCTV: A Critical Tool in Securing Public Safety

Recent news stories have been dominated by revelations of mass surveillance undertaken by the US National Security Agency of foreign individuals, including institutions such as the EU as well as several high profile European politicians. With allegations of phone tapping by so-called 'spy agencies' causing increased diplomatic tension, it is unsurprising that the debate of security versus privacy has been brought back to the fore. Add to this the trial of ex-News of the World editors Andy Coulson and Rebecca Brooks for the infamous phone hacking scandal that has wracked the UK, it is natural that development of technology and our increased power to communicate makes us question the difference between what we deem private business and what we consider to be of public interest.

At a recent summit hosted by the Boston division of Netwatch, international security experts gathered together to discuss 'Video Surveillance, Striking a balance between Privacy and Public Safety.' Not only was this a timely subject but it was also a choice location given the tragedy of the Boston Marathon Bombings which claimed the lives of three people and left over 260 injured in March of this year.

In tragic cases such as the Boston bombings, the role of CCTV footage was instrumental in identifying the perpetrators and there is no doubt that without such footage, these people would never have been caught. In just three days following the bombings, the FBI was able to identify and track the culprits by using three security cameras located across the downtown Boston area. Authorities were able to establish their movements as they first approached the finishing line right up to their escape from the scene after the explosions.

Despite the positive role it played and while few would argue the necessity of CCTV surveillance in public areas, there are still concerns over the implications that the use of CCTV footage has on an individual's privacy. In the case of Boston, once it became knowledge that investigators were looking at CCTV footage, internet users began their own search posting pictures of innocent bystanders as possible suspects. This behaviour is of course unacceptable but points to the divergence that what is seen as acceptable online is unacceptable offline.

Today, CCTV is used both for commercial and domestic purposes and is now widely used by city and county councils to monitor activity in public places and on public transportation. In a recent online survey conducted by Netwatch, we found that the majority of the public is in favour of CCTV. 54 per cent of people surveyed believed that the use of CCTV should be encouraged as it prevents crime. Only 10 per cent felt that its use was an invasion of privacy.

So it's fair to say that when faced with issues of public safety, most are willing to sacrifice a little personal anonymity. Yet there is genuine concern over CCTV's widespread use and the possibility of its footage being abused. It would be wrong to ignore these concerns.

The task for the security industry is to understand how we can best evolve the technology so that it is seen as more than just a recording device which is intrusive of people's personal privacy. For it have a truly effective role in law enforcement, CCTV needs to prevent crime rather than simply record it. People want a technology that can intervene and allow for potentially dangerous situations to be diffused before they occur.

Netwatch technology already offers real time monitoring and crime intervention. Intervention Specialists at the Netwatch Communication Hub direct operations through CCTV monitoring and intervene as soon as a security is breached alerting the intruders to the fact that they are being watched and that the police have been informed. We've already seen on many occasions that this real-time remote security monitoring works.

CCTV technology has an integral role to pay in securing general welfare. The question for policy makers is how can we better integrate CCTV into national security policies without losing the individual's rights to privacy, determining who should have access to the footage and how long it can be kept on file for. This is a discussion which is only beginning and which merits serious discussion at all levels of society.