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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

The Most Surveilled Cities in the World

The government spies on citizens in many ways, but one of the most "in-your-face" of them all is via CCTV (closed-circuit television) camera.

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Counting CCTVs

CCTV camera surveillance is one of many ways your government keeps an eye on you. But they’re so visible that counting the number in any given city could offer insight into that city’s level of surveillance. That was the theory security firm, Comparitech, went with in estimating the number of CCTV cameras in 120 of the world’s most populated cities as a means to ranking the top 50 most-surveilled cities in the world. Comparitech relied on secondary sources, and estimates may not reflect actual numbers. However, one clear pattern emerged when Comparitech crunched the estimates against this crime and safety index: it appears there’s no correlation between surveillance cameras and crime rates. Here’s what else Comparitech’s surveillance survey revealed.

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Chongqing, China - March 12, 2019: the Great Hall of Chongqing people's Square is one of the famous landmarks in Chongqing, China (Transtation: Chongqing People’s Auditorium)Shutterstock (2)

China leads the pack

All five of the top five cities, and eight of the top ten, with the highest estimated number of CCTV cameras are located in China. These include Shanghai (ranking third overall with 113.46 cameras per thousand people) and Beijing (ranking ninth overall with 39.93 cameras per thousand people). The number one most surveilled city according to Comparitech’s count is Chongqing, with 168 cameras per thousand people. In total, China counts approximately 40 cameras per thousand people. By 2022, China is projected to have one public CCTV camera for every two people. Wow! Not surprisingly, China is proud of its “World’s Biggest Surveillance System.”

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LONDON - JUNE 25 2016: British Royal guards perform the Changing of the Guard in Buckingham Palace. Queen's Guard change is one of the major tourist attractions in England.Shutterstock (2)

London, England is the most-surveilled Western city

With an estimated 68.40 cameras per thousand people, London comes in at number six on Comparitech’s list. London has just under half as many cameras per thousand as Shanghai and almost twice as many as Beijing. Fun fact: London and Beijing have both hosted the Olympics, and Shanghai is on the list of potential host cities for 2032’s summer games. Less-fun fact: in 2017, it was discovered that thieves had installed their own surveillance cameras in ATMs throughout London in order to pilfer PINs. Don’t miss this other sneaky way hackers can steal ATM information from far away.

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ATLANTA-August 4:Fox Theatre August 4, 2014 in Atlanta, GA. Though once facing demolition, the theater was saved and is now a National Historic landmark which attracts roughly 750,000 people annually.Shutterstock (2)

Atlanta, Georgia is the most-surveilled U.S. city

Coming in at number ten, Atlanta is one of only two Western cities in the top ten most-surveilled cities in the world and the only U.S. city to make the top ten. Like London and Beijing (and possibly Shanghai), Atlanta is also an Olympic host city, having hosted the summer games in 1996. Perhaps ironically, Atlanta’s Olympic Park was the site of an act of domestic terrorism in the midst of those games. On July 27, 1996, a pipe-bombing attack killed one, injured 11, and indirectly caused the death of someone else by heart attack. The reaction to this event may have lead to officials wanting those surveillance cameras. Believe it or not, these 8 things in your home could be spying on you right now.

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Singapore is almost neck-and-neck with Atlanta

Coming in at number 11 on Comparitech’s list, Singapore has an estimated 15.25 cameras per thousand people. But in terms of sheer numbers, Singapore, with a total estimated count of 86,000 beats the pants off of Atlanta, whose total estimated count is just 7,800, making it the only city in the top 20 with a count of less than 20,000 (see Abu Dhabi below). Here are some other surprising places hidden cameras have turned up.

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Top 6 most-surveilled nations

Out of the top 50 most-surveilled cities:

  • 11 are in China
  • 5 are in the United States (Atlanta, Chicago, D.C., San Francisco, San Diego, Boston)
  • 2 are in the United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi, coming in at 12 with 13.77 cameras per thousand people, and Dubai, coming in at 17 with 12.14 per thousand).

Other countries that appear more than once in the top 50 are:

  • India (New Delhi, Chennai, and Lucknow).
  • U.K. (Cardiff, Wales, and London)
  • Australia (Canberra and Sydney).

These are the 12 most dangerous travel destinations in the world.

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Chicago rounds out the U.S. presence in the top 20

With 13.06 cameras per thousand people, Chicago is the only other U.S. city to appear in the top 20. These secrets that the FBI doesn’t want you to know may surprise you.

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Sydney may be setting a trend in Australia

With 12.35 cameras per thousand people, Sydney comes in at number 15 and just behind Urumqi, China, which, at 14, is the last Chinese city to appear in the top 20. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, this is a fairly new development, with Australia having doubled its number of CCTVs to about 1 million in the last 10 years. Don’t miss these red flags that someone may be spying on your computer.

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With 11.70 cameras per thousand people, Moscow, Russia comes in at number 18. Given the level of surveillance, when visiting Moscow, you might want to consider learning to pronounce it correctly (MAH’S-koh, as opposed to MAH’S-cow). Here are the 35 city names you’ve likely been pronouncing wrong.

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New Delhi leads India

With 9.62 cameras per thousand people, New Delhi is the only Indian city to make it into the top 20. Too bad that didn’t stop a wily tourist from pinching dumbells from the fitness center in his New Delhi hotel. Here are 13 bizarre items stolen from hotel rooms around the world.

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Washington, D.C: High but low?

With 5.61 cameras per thousand people, Washington, D.C. is the third most-surveilled U.S. city on Comparitech’s list. Considering the sheer number of government buildings in Washington, it’s actually curious there aren’t more CCTVs.

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San Francisco: A city whose surveillance may be in transition

San Francisco has 3.07 cameras per thousand people, making it the fourth most-surveilled city in the United States. Or at least it was at the time of Comparitech’s study. Things are about to change in San Francisco, which in May of this year, officially banned the use of facial recognition surveillance technology. Privacy advocates are cheering for City Supervisor, Aaron Peskin, and who knows what other surveillance technology will soon fall in San Fran? Check out these places that you might think are dangerous but are actually safer than you think.

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San Diego: Stop making sensors

The fifth most-surveilled city in the United States might seem surprising to the low-key people who live there. And not so surprisingly, the Anti Surveillance Commission of San Diego has recently demanded a halt to the city’s smart streetlight program, which is comprised of thousands of sensors installed atop streetlights for the purpose of collecting data on traffic flows and energy needs and improving public safety (which Comparitech has already debunked as a viable reason for installing surveillance cameras). Read on to find out the best places to live in the United States.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.