Over the past decade, the UK has spent billions of pounds to install and monitor closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras on tens of thousand of street corners around the country.

It’s a system that many homeland security fanatics hold up as an example of what should be done here in the US to reduce crime and fight terrorism.

Except that the technology has not been especially effective since “only 3% of street robberies in London were solved using CCTV images” and it’s not seen as much of a deterrent.

Use of CCTV images for court evidence has so far been very poor, according to Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville, the officer in charge of the Metropolitan police unit. “CCTV was originally seen as a preventative measure,” Neville told the Security Document World Conference in London. “Billions of pounds has been spent on kit, but no thought has gone into how the police are going to use the images and how they will be used in court. It’s been an utter fiasco: only 3% of crimes were solved by CCTV. There’s no fear of CCTV. Why don’t people fear it? [They think] the cameras are not working.”

However, the police want to press on and put even more money into the system. They want to build a database of images caught on camera and use software that can automatically scan the pictures for details.

That’s fine for the bad guys, of course, but what about the rest of us caught on camera who are not guilty of anything.

Asked about the development of a CCTV database, the office of the UK’s information commissioner, Richard Thomas, said: “CCTV can play an important role in helping to prevent and detect crime. However we would expect adequate safeguards to be put in place to ensure the images are only used for crime detection purposes, stored securely and that access to images is restricted to authorised individuals. We would have concerns if CCTV images of individuals going about their daily lives were retained as part of the initiative.”

And we know that would never happen, right?

I’m going to be in London for a week this summer. Considering their campaign asking people to report “odd looking photographers”, I wonder how many pictures of CCTV cameras I can take before I get picked up. :-)