Oliver Bradshaw | Last Updated:
Technical VPN Analyst
The number of CCTVs and other surveillance tools in place around the world has continued to grow at a staggering rate during 2021. Surveillance cameras are the subject of fierce debate in many countries worldwide because of their vulnerability to abuse that could be used to invade our right to privacy. No matter where you stand on this issue, they are still an essential function of local and national security. It enables our government to effectively track any suspicious activities and prevent potential threats that may disturb peace and order. Our right to privacy may depend on each country’s legislation. It may also greatly rely on how they are enforced and properly regulated by the governing bodies.
Due to our technological advances and increase in demand for security equipment, we can expect steady and gradual growth in the following years. The case study presented below is based on 50 cities around the globe that have the densest population, and that the method of study we implemented to determine the most surveilled countries in the world is by matching the city’s total population with the number of CCTV cameras spread across their jurisdiction. Also, take note that the statistics presented may not represent the exact figure due to unaccounted surveillance equipment under civilian possession. Therefore, some of the figures below may go higher, but we have indicated which city has increased surveillance equipment either way.
According to statistics, China holds the record for the most heavily surveilled country in the world as of 2020. (1) The study based its findings on 50 highly crowded cities, as mentioned earlier. And it has revealed that 18 out of 20 cities on the list are from China. Estimates suggest 54% of the world’s 770 million CCTV cameras are located in the country. This means that approximately 416 million surveillance cameras are spread across China. The number could double rapidly as advances in our technology progresses. And if the statistics remain consistent, it could grow over 540 million in the succeeding years.
China currently has a population of over 1.4 billion people, which would mean that one CCTV camera could track and monitor two residents. And based on our research, Taiyuan is the most surveilled city in the world in regards to population density. Their surveillance equipment accounts for the 482,256 cameras of the total CCTVs in China. (2) The city has a population of 4,199,289 people, which means that 120 cameras can accommodate 1,000 individuals. On the other hand, China’s capital city of Beijing holds the fourth spot. The city has the most numbers of CCTV cameras with 1,310,213 spread in and out of the city, but they also have an extremely high population of 20,462,610 people. This means that only about 61 cameras can monitor per 1,000 individuals.
Only two non-Chinese cities made our top 20 list. And one of them is the English city of London. (3) Our research found that United Kingdom’s capital city ranks as the third most surveilled area worldwide. The area of London alone is home to 9,304,016 residents. And to secure the safety of its constituents, the local government put up a total of 482,256 around the city. Thus, the statistics suggest that in every 1,000 people, roughly 66 cameras are tracking their movement. To give you an overview—an average Londoner has been caught in a CCTV an average of 300 times a day. (4)
London’s action towards enhancing its security capabilities through surveillance tools is rare outside of Chinese provinces. However, the total number of equipment they’ve provided may not be the exact figures. And the reason for such is that the CCTVs that can be found around the city are a mixture of equipment from the government, private establishments, and home securities. Those owned by the city’s local government and metropolitan police can be easily accounted for because they are of public records. But the challenge is counting those under the possession of civilians. Therefore, the precise statistics could be higher than the data originally provided.
In the sixteenth and twenty-first ranks is the Indian city of Hyderabad and Chennai, respectively. In Hyderabad alone, you can find roughly 300,000 CCTV cameras within the area. (5) As of 2020, the city recorded a total of 10,004,144 inhabitants. So this means that approximately 30 cameras are assigned to every 1,000 people dwelling in Hyderabad. Next is Chennai, which currently has a population of 10,971,108 and a sum total of 280,000 surveillance cameras. (6)(7) Although Chennai has more residents, the number of CCTVs is a lot smaller. Thus, it equals 26 surveillance cameras recording the movement of 1,000 residents of the area.
On the other hand, India’s capital of New Delhi didn’t even make the top 30 because their high number of CCTVs are correlated with the city’s high population. Our research found that the city has 429,500 surveillance videos around New Delhi with a population of 30,290,396 people. This leads to an approximate of only 14 CCTVs in a thousand people, which is very low compared to the 30 cameras of Hyderabad and 26 cameras of Chennai. Although two of India’s main cities are in the top 20 of the most surveilled places around the globe, this is just a fraction when you match them with China.
Iraq’s capital city of Baghdad is the most crowded region in the country, with a rough estimate of 7,144,260 people residing within the area’s vicinity. Despite the city’s density, the CCTVs installed are relatively low compared to other major metropolitans like Beijing, Moscow, London, New Delhi, Istanbul, and New York City. This may be the case—Iraq still ranks fourth and Baghdad twenty-fifth for the most surveilled places in the world. As of today, they only have approximately 120,000 cameras around the area which means that about 17 cameras are tracking and monitoring the movement in every 1,000 residents and ensure public safety. (8) (9)
In January 2021, it was announced that additional surveillance cameras would be deployed throughout the city. They shall be installed in government agencies, selected streets and neighborhoods, and various checkpoints and borders. Also, it was mentioned that Iraq’s Ministry of Interior was tasked to handle these new CCTVs cameras and help local law enforcers track any suspicious activities within their jurisdiction. The action to add surveillance equipment was announced in the Iraqi News Agency by Baghdad’s Governor Muhammad Jabr Al-Atta. (10)(11) With this being said—you can expect that there will be a significant increase in CCTVs just this year alone.
Moscow, Russia, currently holds the twenty-sixth rank for the most surveilled city. There are about 193,000 CCTVs spread across the area. The city’s local government shows a census of 7,144,260 individuals living in Moscow. (12) (13) This means that roughly 15 security cameras are monitoring per 1,000 individuals. Another major Russian metropolitan area that made our list is Saint Petersburg (14) (15) which is in the thirty-fourth place. As of today, the city has a population of 5,467,808 with 55,064 surveillance cameras within the area. This means that about ten CCTVs are available for every 1,000 residents. Ten is comparatively low, but it is still a high number if you put the figure against other major cities like Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Osaka, Rio de Janeiro, and Manila.
Most of us would associate advanced and quantity of surveillance cameras with first-world countries like the United States and Russia. As repeatedly emphasized, this is not the case if we’re talking about the level of surveillance per individual. Again, the research performed is based on the total CCTVs per area against their population. Since China is the most populated country in the world, the results gathered by the research agency are almost expected to occur. But the surprising element here is the number of cities involved. As mentioned, China already has 18 cities on our top 20 list of most surveilled country study.
Singapore is a small island country in Southeast Asia and an economic power in Asian trade and commerce. Also, the crime rate in Singapore is extremely low. In fact, they were even listed as among the world’s safest countries. However, putting up extra security is still an essential feature of any bustling city. Our research shows that the country has installed an estimate of 86,000 CCTV cameras in the city to keep its 5,935,053 residents safe from any potential threats that could endanger their lives. (16) The total number of surveillance equipment situated around the city means that about 14 cameras are tasks to monitor per 1,000 individuals.
The data we’ve provided maybe a little short by now because the police cameras are already nearing 90,000 as of March 01, 2021, according to Yahoo! News. (17) It is expected to increase in the foreseeable future, said Singapore’s Minister of Law and Home Affairs Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam. It was mentioned that most of these CCTV cameras would be placed at busy public streets, malls, public centers, and neighborhoods. During his statement in the parliament, K. Shanmugam said that surveillance cameras are game-changers in solving crimes. He added that 5,000 cases were solved in December 2020 through CCTV cameras that are spread across the city.
Sydney, Australia, sits at the thirty-third place for cities that is heavily monitored by CCTV cameras. As of today, the capital city of Australia has a population of 4,925,987 people. (18) And to ensure public safety and protect its residents from potential threats, the city government has put up about 60,000 surveillance cameras. What this implies is that about 12 cameras are available for every 1,000 individuals living in Sydney. Take note that the figures stated here are only a rough estimate. The total number of CCTVs could go higher if you account for gadgets in the hands of civilians and private establishments.
In just a month of March 2021, the use of surveillance cameras was under scrutiny when a group of hackers claimed that they had breached over 24,000 organizations worldwide—this includes 100 organizations in Australia. The particular CCTV and security provider involved is a company called Verkada. This isn’t the first time that the company was in the news. Last October 2020, they fired three of their employees when they found that they’re using the CCTV videos to make inappropriate jokes about their female co-workers. As of today, there are no updates regarding the breach issue, but it would be best to look for an alternative security provider if possible. (19)
Turkey’s metropolitan city of Istanbul is ranked thirty-ninth among the 50 densest cities that are heavily surveilled. According to their latest census, Istanbul has a documented population of 15,190,336 people residing within the city’s vicinity. To ensure their constituents’ safety, they have installed about 109,000 CCTV cameras around the area. (20) When you account for the number of surveillance equipment with the city’s recorded population, it will give you the available CCTV per 1,000 residents, and that is about seven surveillance cameras. It may be too low compared to other major regions mentioned in this list, but it is still relatively high in contrast to other crowded cities.
CCTVs are a vital feature in any metropolitan area for many apparent reasons, and most of it is for security purposes. One example of its well-documented contribution in recent years is the CCTV videos of bombing and gun attack incidents in the Turkish regions of Ankara (21) and Izmir (22) in 2016 and 2017. In particular, the Izmir surveillance video has captured the two events of the car bombing that killed a court employee, police officer, and the two attackers. The videos captured by the CCTVs are vital because it has raised suspicion that the attacks are likely stirred by a militant group that called themselves Kurdish.
Most of us would probably immediately associate surveillance and other espionage activities with global superpowers like the United States and Russia. Surprisingly, we found that only one city in the United States barely made the top 50 of the most surveilled cities globally, and that is the city of Los Angeles, California, (23) which currently sits at the forty-sixth rank. Their local census documented a total population of 4,015,940 people inhabiting the city. Also, their city government found that there are only 22,678 CCTVs installed in their area, which means approximately six surveillance cameras are available per 1,000 residents.
As mentioned, one would expect a number of US cities would be at least in the top 50 list considering their technological capabilities and how dense their population is. Another surprising figure of our research revealed that only two US cities are in the complete 50 lists. The other US city is New York which is in the fifty-sixth rank. As of today, the city has a total of 8,323,340 documented individuals residing within the area. And to ensure safety, the local government has set up 31,490 CCTV cameras as of June 2020. (24) The data presented here was last updated in 2020, which means that it could have gone higher as we enter the second quarter of 2021.
The forty-eighth most surveilled place in the world is Thailand’s capital city Bangkok. The region is home to 10,539,415 Thai’s accompanied by 57,770 CCTV cameras ensuring its residents’ safety. (25) (26) Taking these figures into consideration, we’ll come up with about five surveillance cameras tracking the movement of every 1,000 inhabitants of the city. There are other highly populated areas in the country, but Bangkok is the only Thai city that was found to be heavily monitored by CCTVs. Also, the city’s crime index of 41.46 means that their capital city is safer by a margin of about 40% compared to neighboring areas.
Our research was based on data we’ve found in 2020, which means that specific changes might have occurred. And this is what precisely has happened with the security protocols in Bangkok. As of January 26, 2021, their local law enforcer has added CCTV cameras to enhance public safety not only to the city’s residents but also to tourists visiting the popular metropolitan in Thailand. Such a decision is proven crucial since Bangkok’s tourism has been progressively improving in the last few years. In 2018 alone, the tourism rate has increased to 10.5 million visitors, which is a 27.5% improvement in the previous years, and it further moved up to 10.99 million the following year. (27)