In conversation with Brighton station about CCTV

A few days ago I was stuck at Brighton railway station, watching trains get delayed and eventually cancelled. In the end I gave up waiting for carriage to take me to my meeting in London, and went back to the office. But while I sat on the concourse I noticed – not for the first time – the sheer amount of CCTV, cameras, and various surveillance devices in plain view all around the station.

Montage of photos
A selection of the surveillance in Brighton station

In this day and age, and especially here in the UK where we have the most CCTV per capita in Europe, we as society have come to expect and seemingly accept having a few cameras in public places like railway stations. Personally I’m very dubious about the efficacy of CCTV as means of crime prevention, I’m even less convinced about the cost effectiveness – FOI requests reveal that one installed camera costs around £20,000. And I’m perturbed further still about where that footage goes and how it is used.

Anyway, I saw all those cameras (there are 28 in the photo) and was a bit bored, so I did what any good citizen would do. I tweeted about it:

‏@clagnut 9:19am, 7 Feb 2014
CCTV gone mad in Brighton station (there are 3 banks like this). Is this really acceptable @southernrailuk?

Soon after, I got a reply. Turns out Brighton Station has got a Twitter account.

‏‏@brightonstation 9:44am, 7 Feb 2014
.@clagnut I guess it depends if your loved ones have been assaulted or not and you want to catch the scoundrel

And the conversation continued as only Twitter can. It got a bit interesting here and there.

@brightonstation Proportion. Privacy.
@brightonstation Also, how many convictions have there been thanks to the CCTV? Have crime rates decreased since their installation?
@clagnut I believe they are facial recognition cameras focused on the gates. Not that that makes it okay.
.@clagnut if you look, they are mostly focused one per gate, to catch naughty ticket people/protect staff and pax from unfounded allegations
@brightonstation That might be why you use the cameras, but what happens to the recordings? We’re given good reason to paranoid recently.
@brightonstation @clagnut ah, that makes more sense. Revenue protection, not really looking out for our ‘loved ones’.
@Belladax If you were assaulted on station and then they said they had removed cameras to protect the innocent, would you be happier?
@brightonstation I absolutely appreciate the need for security, but wld hope enough staff on duty to help. As @clagnut says, bit excessive
Brighton Station
@Belladax Realistically, to get a prosecution in 2014 you need good clear facial cctv, word of staff not enough for CPS usually
@brightonstation good to know, thanks. You get a lot of assaults?
@Belladax I have 16mil people through me a year, and at weekends in summer a lot of boozed up landlubbers come down to party too hard!
@clagnut The station is private property and there are signs saying there is cctv. I bet your local newsagent has more cameras per sq foot
@brightonstation @clagnut Well hidden signs. Plus, Waterloo has the most cameras of any terminus yet doesn’t have any gate-facing ones…
@brightonstation Specious argument. My newsagent can’t track my movements and isn’t connected to national infrastructure.
@clagnut never heard of internet eyes?

I should probably add that I’ve no idea if @brightonstation actually speaks on behalf of Southern Rail – the general opinion is that the account is an enthusiast, rather than an official account.