Is the concern unjustified?

Kristina Tullberg

A Swedish perspective on personal privacy

The general public does not consider the use of security cameras on streets and market squares as an intrusion on their personal privacy. On the other hand, clearer regulatory frameworks and procedures for managing video material and camera surveillance are sought. This is shown by a survey conducted in Sweden by KANTAR SIFO.

The attitude to the use of security cameras is clearly positive: a total of 90 percent of the 1000 interviewees are positive towards the use of security cameras in public places.

I talked to Markus Lahtinen, a researcher at LUSAX, School of Economics at Lund University, also coordinator of the survey, to learn more about the results.

Did you expect the attitude of the general public to security cameras to be so positive?

“The positive attitude towards using security cameras was expected, although it was surprising that as many as 90 percent are positive. Something more unexpected was that the general public is not worried that their personal privacy is at risk of being violated by camera surveillance in public places. More than 4 out of 5 people (83 percent) reject the idea that the cameras would be an intrusion on their privacy.”

Has the medial debate, to a large extent, been about personal privacy?

“The debate has sometimes suggested that people are generally concerned that their personal privacy would be violated by using camera surveillance on streets and market squares. However, being captured on video by a security camera in public places was not perceived as a violation of privacy by the respondents, nor if it would be the police who decided on camera surveillance. In total, 68 percent of respondents reject the idea ‘that their privacy is violated if it is the police who can decide on their need for camera surveillance’.”

What does the general public think is important for the protection of personal privacy?

“A clearer regulatory framework. The perception was that restrictions should not be placed on the cameras themselves, but through clear rules and procedures for installations, image management and signs to show that cameras are in use.”

Should the use of cameras be limited or allowed to increase?

“That was another thing where the answers were surprising. The general public thinks there is a need to increase the number of security cameras compared with the number in use today. 72 percent of respondents felt that more security cameras should be installed, only 3 percent thought that fewer security cameras should be installed.”

How does the general public view the effects of cameras on crime prevention?

“A large proportion of the respondents considered that security cameras had an effect on crime prevention. 83 percent of respondents ‘perceive that the presence of security cameras prevents potential offenders from committing crime’. This is also something that several other research studies have shown.

86 percent ‘perceive that security cameras provide good support in the work to detect ongoing crimes’. When it comes to the possibility to solve crime, the respondents were also positive. 82 percent ‘perceive that the material from security cameras can be used to investigate and solve crimes committed’. Many have seen the benefit where cameras are used, for example, to identify suspected offenders who have been captured on video when a crime has been committed.

The respondents considered that ‘the ability to detect ongoing crimes’ is ‘the primary benefit of security cameras’.”

What is the background reason for the survey being conducted?

“The survey was conducted because we believe the general public has a positive view on camera surveillance, which was also confirmed. The general public is not at all as worried as the debate sometimes tends to suggest, even though there has been a swing in the current debate compared to earlier. Currently, the debate is more about the need for more cameras; almost no one thinks you need to be more restrictive. But the discussions should be even more about how to use cameras in a smarter way.

For my part, I think the survey is an acknowledgement that we need to continue researching these issues, partly how the impact on personal privacy is experienced and partly how cameras can be used in a better and smarter way.

LUSAX has been researching issues related to the effects of the increased digitalisation of security systems since 2006. LUSAX is a non-profit research group at the School of Economics at Lund University. The survey was conducted by KANTAR SIFO in Sweden in August 2017 and was a collaborative activity between Lund University and the business community.