The History of the Surveillance Camera

Written by paul cartmell
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The History of the Surveillance Camera
Cameras became commonplace in the U.S. following the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. (video surveillance image by Bruno Bernier from

The first use of surveillance cameras is credited by the Alpha Card Security website to the U.S. military, who monitored weapons tests during World War II. Surveillance cameras allowed tests of the V2 missile to be monitored safely by U.S. military experts.

Public Surveillance

Alpha Card Security reports the public use of surveillance cameras was first introduced by U.K. law enforcement agencies during the 1960s. Temporary surveillance cameras were used to monitor public demonstrations in London’s Trafalgar Square in 1960, including the visit to London of the Thai royal family. According to the Not Bored website, similar cameras were used to monitor London’s train stations starting in 1961, and in 1964, the first covert cameras were introduced in the city centre of Liverpool to constantly monitor public places. The first use of surveillance cameras to monitor public places in the U.S. was introduced in New York City’s Municipal Building in 1969 and quickly spread to a number of cities throughout the U.S.


In the U.K., spending on surveillance cameras for law enforcement averages around ¾ of public crime prevention spending. In contrast, U.S. surveillance cameras are rarely used to indiscriminately cover public places, but are focused on areas seen as a high security risk. Places often covered by surveillance cameras in the U.S. include banks, ATMs, liquor stores and convenience stores.


Early surveillance cameras were known as closed circuit television (CCTV) systems that did not have the ability to record information for storage or to be used as evidence in court cases. The Home Security Cameras Info website explains CCTV systems needed constant monitoring and were of no use in dimly lit areas or at night. The introduction of video during the 1970s was the first revolution in surveillance cameras, as surveillance began to be used in traffic control situations and as crime prevention systems in residential and commercial situations.


The introduction of video during the 1970s allowed surveillance cameras to be used by the insurance industry in order to monitor fraudulent claims of workers compensation and accident claims. The Home Security Cameras Info website reports video allowed the use of surveillance cameras in divorce proceedings to catch cheating spouses. According to Alpha Card Security, the nanny cam was also introduced to monitor the activities of child care workers by parents.


During the 1990s, the introduction of digital technology again revolutionised surveillance cameras. Digital technology allowed the recording of information from a number of cameras at once and improved the image available to viewers. The features of digital surveillance cameras include motion detectors, and the ability to view the image from a surveillance camera over the Internet.

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