The web of security cameras monitoring Britain's streets, stations and shopping centers has done little to reduce crime or make people feel safer, according to a government study released Thursday.
The government, which spent 170 million pounds ($325 million) on closed-circuit cameras between 1998 and 2003, said it had no plans to fund any more.
Video cameras have blossomed in Britain since the 1990s. An estimated 4.2 million cameras now observe the country's 60 million people going about their everyday business, from getting on a bus to lining up at the bank to driving around London. It's widely estimated that the average Briton is scrutinized by 300 cameras a day.
For the Home Office-funded study, academics from the University of Leicester studied 14 closed-circuit TV systems in a variety of settings, including town centers, parking lots, hospitals and residential areas. Only the parking lot scheme was shown to cause a fall in crime.
Previous studies of the effectiveness of closed-circuit TV systems have come to similar conclusions.
The report found that while a majority of residents backed the cameras, support in nine of the 14 areas declined after they were installed. It said governments had oversold the technology as a "magic bullet" against crime.
"For supporters of CCTV (closed-circuit TV) these findings are disappointing," said Martin Gill, the professor who led the research. "For the most part, CCTV did not produce reductions in crime and it did not make people feel safer."
The government's CCTV Initiative funded 684 local camera projects between 1998 and 2003. On Thursday, the Home Office said it had no plans for further spending, although local authorities and police forces could still install their own closed-circuit systems. A spokesman said the decision was not connected to the release of the report.
Gill said cameras were still a powerful crime-fighting tool, but that their use was complex.
"Overall, areas have encountered real difficulties in using CCTV to good effect," he said.
"It looks simple to use, but it is not," he added. "It has many components, and they can impact in different ways. It is more than just a technical solution; it requires human intervention to work to maximum efficiency and the problems it helps deal with are complex."