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Yes, the most surveilled cities in the world are in China

Toronto has a lot more CCTV cameras than I would have thought.

According to this (2022?) data from Comparitech, there is estimated to be about 19,236 cameras installed around the Greater Toronto Area. With a population of around 6.31 million people, this translates into a per capita rate of 3.05 (CCTV cameras per 1,000 people). What this means is that there is almost surely footage of me enjoying a late-night shawarma sandwich after the bar somewhere on the streets of Toronto.

In some ways, this is a high number of cameras. Tokyo, which is usually considered to be the largest metro area in the world with nearly 40 million people, only has 1.06 cameras per 1,000 people. Dhaka is 0.71. Sao Paulo is 1.04. Osaka is 1.57. And Montreal is 1.03. Though to be totally fair here, Rio de Janeiro is up at 3.34 (and it may be the most dangerous city mentioned in this post). Paris is 4.04. New York is 6.87. Los Angeles is 8.77. And London is 13.35.

But where things get really exciting is in authoritarian places. Moscow is estimated to have 16.85 CCTV cameras per 1,000 people. And in China as a whole, there is estimated to be roughly 540 million cameras scattered around its cities, which works out to an average of 372.8 cameras for every 1,000 people. For a city like Shanghai, this crudely equals something like 10.6 million cameras.

It turns out that surveillance is pretty important for things other than shawarma-eating videos:

Vyborov wasn’t arrested that day, but the police informed him that he was under surveillance through Sfera, one of Moscow’s face recognition systems, for participating in unsanctioned rallies. Considered one of the most efficient surveillance systems, Sfera led to the detention of 141 people last year. “Facial recognition, and video cameras in general in a totalitarian state, are an absolute evil,” Vyborov says.

Here’s the other thing. Safety is usually touted as the reason to have lots of cameras. But Comparitech’s data suggests that there’s an almost non-existent correlation between lots of cameras and lower crime. I mean, just look at Tokyo. It is basically the model megacity, and its per capita camera rate is only 1.06. The real utility, it would seem, is using cameras and face recognition software to restrict personal freedoms.


  1. Good post and message. That said, cameras per person is a weird metric. CCTV cameras are assigned to spaces, not people (one hopes, at least). On the cameras per square mile metric from your linked study, Tokyo and Toronto are tied at 8, which seems more reasonable.


      • Good point. That makes the purely population numbers even more odd. When considering population density Tokyo (16,480/sq mi) at 8 cameras/sq mi theoretically has effectively more surveillance than Toronto (10,750/sq mi) — the opposite of what the cameras per capita numbers suggest.


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