2021 is a big moment for CCTV: the world’s one-billionth surveillance camera is likely to be installed by the end of the year. A single CCTV camera per every eight humans on Earth.
But of course, it doesn’t quite work like that. Each camera doesn’t follow a set group of people around, creating a neatly edited portrait. The cameras are (mostly) fixed in position, and some countries have many more cameras than others.
In China and the US, for example, there is already one camera per 4.1 and 4.6 people, respectively – way ahead of the curve. But what if it is more pertinent to think of how cameras are distributed spatially? After all, more cameras across a city with a smaller footprint makes for greater coverage of everybody’s comings and goings.
The increasing levels of CCTV surveillance could have direct implication to people's privacy, so Surfshark wanted to know which cities have the highest number of CCTV cameras per square kilometer. We gathered the numbers, crunched them, and produced a series of new visualizations to illustrate just how pervasive surveillance cameras are in the 130 most populous international cities.
- Chennai in India is the city with the highest density of CCTV cameras: 657.28 per km2.
- London, England, has the most CCTV cameras per km2 outside of Asia: 399.27/km2.
- New York is the US city with the highest density of CCTV cameras: 25.97/km2.
- Beijing in China has the most cameras (1.15M) but is ranked #10 for density (277.51/km2).
- Six of the top 10 cities with the highest density of CCTV cameras are in China; three are in India.
A Map of CCTV Camera Density in Every Country in the World
This interactive map illustrates the density of CCTV cameras in the 150 countries in our study. Zoom in to see a more detailed view of each city's cameras, and hover over the dots for more details.
China and India stand out as the countries with the highest-density surveillance cities. Of course, both nations are home to a lot of very populous cities, which is why so many of the 130 ‘dots’ are based there. All the same, Chinese and Indian cities dominate the top 10 for camera density, and Chinese cities continue to dominate the top 30.
On the positive side, China’s pervasive surveillance reassures its public: “Having these cameras everywhere makes me feel safe,” as one interviewee told TIME. On the other hand, China’s blanket CCTV coverage and its integration of smart systems put citizens at the mercy of justice-dealing algorithms that ‘predict’ crimes and order preventive arrests. This situation puts CCTV’s opposing themes of ‘liberty’ vs. ‘security’ into stark relief.
Compare the Density of CCTV Cameras Between Cities
Does a higher number of cameras per km2 mean reduced crime rates? Or are they just an affront to our privacy? Select a city in both columns of this interactive to put their surveillance and crime profiles head-to-head.
It’s a 10,000km trip from Xiamen to London, but both cities have a similar CCTV profile: just under 400 cameras per km2. However, London is in the top third of the table for crime, while Xiamen is apparently one of the safest cities in our study.
Does CCTV work? That depends on what you want it to do. As one UK report notes, surveillance cameras are very effective at making the population feel safe. Ironically, however, CCTV works better for solving crimes than preventing them. It is more likely to deliver justice than safety.
The Top 10 Cities with the Most CCTV Cameras Per KM2
China dominates our study. The world’s most populous country either has an awful lot of people to protect or an issue with control – depending on your take. India is the world’s second-most populous country, and Indian cities occupy three of our top 10 spots. But India doesn’t yet have China’s ‘smart’ surveillance infrastructure or strategy of preemptive arrests. So what is the difference?
“The answer may lie in the way our cities are growing,” writes Vandana Vasudevan, Senior Fellow of the Sustainable Cities and Transport program of the World Resources Institute. Crime is rising along with fiercer competition for urban resources, continues Vasudevan. “The middle class cocoons itself into gated communities and then attempts to protect itself by erecting high walls and a thousand cameras.”
How Does Your City’s CCTV Landscape Compare to the Rest of the World?
Finally, here is Surfshark’s data in full. Compare the CCTV landscape and crime rate of your closest big cities with the 150 others from around the world.
Panopticon Cities of the World
In 1785, social theorist Jeremy Bentham completed his first design for the Panopticon. This prison building was configured so that the guard at the center would always be able to see every prisoner around him. The prisoners would never know who he was watching – so in theory, they’d behave as though being watched, i.e., responsibly! The Panopticon, Bentham claimed, was a “new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example.”
Today the Panopticon has escaped the prison. It’s in our CCTV cameras and every digital trace we leave. While some cities have more blind spots than others, contemporary theorists suggest that we’ve internalized the need to conform to society’s standards. CCTV makes us feel safer and asserts a sense of community responsibility. Is the price – our privacy and the risk of institutional abuse – too much to pay?
Methodology & Sources
We gathered multiple sources to determine the number of CCTV cameras in the world's 150 most populous cities. The population of each city in this study was taken from WorldPopulationReview.com, and the area in km2 was gathered from Wikipedia. With all data in hand, we were able to calculate the number of cameras per 1,000 people and per 1 km2. Crime data was sourced from Numbeo.com.
All data was gathered in November 2020.
The full data collected to produce these charts is available upon request.