Cities in China are under the heaviest CCTV surveillance in the world, according to a new analysis by Comparitech. But globally, many more cities are under increasing amounts of surveillance.
In 2019, IHS Markit predicted that there would be 1 billion surveillance cameras worldwide by the end of 2021. In 2017, it also suggested China would have 626 million cameras within three years, which is further supported by reports that the country has around 600 million cameras within its Skynet project.
Based on a population of 1.43 billion (using the most recent UN estimate), IHS Markit’s figure of 626 million cameras means there are 439.07 cameras per 1,000 people in China. That’s almost one camera for every two people.
This year, we have used this ratio to create estimated CCTV camera figures per Chinese city. Due to wildly different estimates and old figures, this seemed the most accurate and fairest way to try and gauge the sheer volume of camera figures in China.
While China yet again dominates this study for its vast surveillance tactics, there are other countries whose surveillance tactics are of growing concern, including several Indian and Russian cities, Seoul, Singapore, London, Dhaka, New York, and Los Angeles.
Comparitech researchers collated a number of data resources and reports, including government reports, police websites, and news articles, to get some idea of the number of CCTV cameras in use in 150 major cities across the globe. We focused primarily on public CCTV—cameras used by government entities such as law enforcement.
Here are our key findings:
- Hyderabad, Indore, Delhi, Singapore, Moscow, Baghdad, Seoul, St. Petersburg, London, and Los Angeles are the top 10 most surveilled cities outside of China (based on the number of cameras per 1,000 people)
- Delhi, Seoul, Singapore, Hyderabad, New York, Moscow, London, Chennai, Mumbai, and Dhaka are the top 10 most surveilled cities outside of China (based on the number of cameras per square mile)
- At the end of 2021, over one billion surveillance cameras are estimated to have been installed worldwide, according to IHS Markit’s latest report
- We found little correlation between the number of public CCTV cameras and crime or safety
The 10 most surveilled cities in the world – cameras per person
Based on the number of cameras per 1,000 people, these cities are the top 10 most surveilled in the world:
- Cities of China* — 626m cameras to 1.43bn people = 439.07 cameras per 1,000 people
- Hyderabad, India — 900,000 cameras for 10,801,163 people = 83.32 cameras per 1,000 people
- Indore, India – 200,000 cameras per 3,302,077 people = 60.57 cameras per 1,000 people
- Delhi, India — 449,934 cameras for 22,547,000 people = 19.96 cameras per 1,000 people
- Singapore, Singapore — 109,072 cameras for 6,080,859 people = 17.94 cameras per 1,000 people
- Moscow, Russia — 214,000 cameras for 12,680,389 people = 16.88 cameras per 1,000 people
- Baghdad, Iraq — 120,000 cameras for 7,711,305 people = 15.56 cameras per 1,000 people
- Seoul, South Korea — 144,513 cameras for 9,988,049 people = 14.47 cameras per 1,000 people
- St. Petersburg, Russia — 75,000 cameras for 5,561,294 people = 13.49 cameras per 1,000 people
- London, England (UK) — 127,423 cameras for 9,648,110 people = 13.21 cameras per 1,000 people
*As mentioned in the introduction, our estimates for Chinese cities this year are based on China as a whole.
The 10 most surveilled cities in the world (excluding China) – cameras per square mile
As China dominates this list, we have included a separate table with the number of cameras per square mile of each Chinese city. Therefore, this list features the top 10 most surveilled cities in the rest of the world:
- Delhi, India – 449,934 cameras for 302 square miles = 1,490.19 cameras per square mile
- Seoul, South Korea – 144,513 cameras for 234 square miles = 618.45 cameras per square mile
- Singapore, Singapore – 109,072 cameras for 281 square miles = 387.88 cameras per square mile
- Hyderabad – 900,000 cameras for 2,802 square miles = 321.21 cameras per square mile
- New York, United States – 70,882 cameras for 300 square miles = 235.97 cameras per square mile
- Moscow, Russia – 214,000 cameras for 970 square miles = 220.73 cameras per square mile
- London, United Kingdom – 127,423 cameras for 607 square miles = 209.94 cameras per square mile
- Chennai, India – 91,042 cameras for 459 square miles = 198.32 cameras per square mile
- Mumbai, India – 77,763 cameras for 438 square miles = 177.45 cameras per square mile
- Dhaka, Bangladesh – 16,368 cameras for 116 square miles = 141.31 cameras per square mile
The 10 most populated cities in the world (and their camera figures)
As most of the heaviest surveilled cities aren’t in the top 10 most populated cities, let’s see how the world’s most populated cities compare when it comes to their camera figures per 1,000 people and per square mile:
- Tokyo, Japan – 37,266 cameras for 37,194,104 people = 1 camera per 1,000 people and 7.11 cameras per square mile
- Shanghai, China – 12,825,589 cameras for 29,210,808 people = 439.07 cameras per 1,000 people and 5,239.06 cameras per square mile
- Dhaka, Bangladesh – 16,368 cameras for 23,209,616 people = 0.71 cameras per 1,000 people and 141.31 cameras per square mile
- São Paulo, Brazil – 18,669 cameras for 22,619,736 people = 0.83 cameras per 1,000 people and 6.08 cameras per square mile
- Delhi, India – 449,934 cameras for 22,547,000 people = 19.96 cameras per 1,000 people and 1,490.19 cameras per square mile
- Mexico City, Mexico – 80,000 cameras for 22,281,442 people = 3.59 cameras per 1,000 people and 139.53 cameras per square mile
- Cairo, Egypt – 46,562 cameras for 22,183,200 people = 2.1 cameras per 1,000 people and 39.09 cameras per square mile
- Beijing, China – 9,556,892 cameras for 21,766,214 people = 439.07 cameras per 1,000 people and 1,508.28 cameras per square mile
- Mumbai, India – 77,763 cameras for 21,296,516 people = 3.65 cameras per 1,000 people and 177.45 cameras per square mile
- Osaka, Japan – 20,098 cameras for 19,013,434 people = 1.06 cameras per 1,000 people and 3.99 cameras per square mile
CCTV, crime, and safety
Closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras serve many purposes, ranging from crime prevention to traffic monitoring to observing industrial operations in environments not suitable for humans. The digital age has boosted the prevalence of CCTV surveillance. Cameras are getting better and cheaper, while live video streams can be remotely accessed, stored on the internet, and passed around. The adoption of face recognition technology makes it possible for both public and private entities to instantly check the identity of anyone who passes by a CCTV camera.
Depending on whom you ask, the increased prevalence and capabilities of CCTV surveillance could make society safer and more efficient, could trample on our rights to privacy and freedom of movement, or both. No matter which side you argue, the fact is that live video surveillance is ramping up worldwide.
A primary argument in favor of CCTV surveillance is improved law enforcement and crime prevention. We compared the number of public CCTV cameras with the crime indices reported by Numbeo, which are based on surveys of that site’s visitors.
As you can see from the above chart, a higher number of cameras just barely correlates with a lower crime index.
Broadly speaking, more cameras don’t necessarily reduce crime rates.
China leads the world in CCTV surveillance
Estimates vary on the number of CCTV cameras in China, but, as we’ve already explored, IHS Markit estimates that 626 million cameras are located in China, which equates to a total of 439.07 per 1,000 people.
While astronomical, we can see that other estimates place similar–if not higher–figures on these cities. For example, in Shenzhen, it was reported that there were 1.34m cameras in 2017 with 16.68m planned (our estimate suggests there are currently 5.7m). And in Hangzhou, in 2014, there were reportedly 130 cameras per square kilometer. Based on a city size of 16,841 KM², this equates to over 2.5m cameras. Our current estimate places it at 3.6m for 2023.
Based on current projections of 439.07 cameras per 1,000 people, let’s look at the estimates for each Chinese city:
While it goes without saying that the highest number of cameras are found in the most populated cities, we can see that some cities will have a far higher density of cameras than others (per square mile). Based on these calculations Shenzhen would have at least 7,463 cameras per square mile, followed by Wuhan with 6,488, and Shanghai with 5,239 per square mile.
China is a fervent adopter of face recognition surveillance. It is often used to restrict individuals’ freedom of movement, such as restricting access to public transportation. Cameras equipped with face recognition technology are put in place at transportation hubs to enforce these rules.
NDAA-prohibited cameras by country
Despite the concerns surrounding China’s surveillance technology, our recent study found high volumes of Dahua and Hikvision camera networks in use around the globe.
In 2019, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) prohibited US federal government agencies, contractors, and grant loan recipients from using certain manufacturers’ equipment, including Dahua and Hikvision surveillance cameras (and their OEMs). We used Shodan.io to pinpoint the location of each camera network run by Dahua- and Hikvision-branded camera networks. As camera networks likely cover more than one camera, our figures probably only scratch the surface when it comes to the total number of cameras.
The highest concentration of these camera networks was found in the US, with over 807,000 in total. Furthermore, as government agencies, etc. cannot use these cameras, these will be in addition to the surveillance cameras we’ve logged in this study. For example, in New York, there were 28,611 Dahua/Hikvision camera networks, while in Los Angeles there were 10,669 Dahua/Hikvision camera networks.
While the number of surveillance cameras implemented by police forces, transport agencies, and so on may make for stark reading, they are only part of the overall problem. With vast amounts of private cameras also installed in these locations, citizens in cities all over the world are subject to surveillance every time they leave their homes.
Comparitech researchers collated a number of resources to get an estimate of the number of public CCTV cameras in use. We focused on the world’s 150 most heavily-populated cities but omitted any city where we couldn’t find enough data. This year, the city of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso replaced Athens in Greece. Delhi’s population is only for the metropolitan area which our camera figures cover.
Our city sizes were taken from government sources or citypopulation.de where we found the area size that correlated best with the population figures we have. Often, this is the metropolitan area rather than the city as camera figures spread into these areas, especially on subways and buses.
Due to new data from authoritative sources, some figures may be considerably higher or lower than our previous study, which relied on some estimates.
Where possible, we have only included public CCTV cameras, including cameras installed on public buildings, cameras used by law enforcement, cameras installed on public transport, and traffic cameras with surveillance capabilities (i.e. automatic number plate recognition). However, in some instances, it may not be clear what cameras are included, meaning some private camera figures may also be included in the totals. We believe this may be the case for Indore.
Due to a wide range of sources reporting estimates and a general lack of public information regarding CCTV cameras, actual figures may be higher or lower than what is indicated. To try and ensure our study is as fair and accurate as possible, we have opted for the lower figure where two different ones have been quoted.
Most of the data sources used are from the last few years but, in some cases, only older data sources were found. The dates of the sources are listed in our sources sheet.
The cities omitted due to lack of data are: Yaounde, Kinshasa, Kumasi, Malappuram, Nagoya, Kuwait City, and Jeddah.
Sources: For a full list of sources by country, please request access here.
Data researchers: Charlotte Bond, Rebecca Moody