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Having a closed circuit television (CCTV) system to monitor your facility or home is wonderful and it is an added level of protection, albeit ‘reactive’.

What is better is to be ‘proactive’.  But, CCTV headends with advanced computing can cost a king’s ransom to own and operate and for most, these artificial intelligence powered stations are beyond reach.  So, what to do?  How can you become proactive in your CCTV without breaking the bank?  The truth is that there is simple and cost-effective way to achieve proactive CCTV.

You add proper signage to the location to tell your guests and / or customers that you have CCTV and it is watching their every move.

Signs amplify the power of CCTV by many times.  It is a powerful subliminal message sent to all who see it.  It applies subliminal pressure.

Signs are the most power deterrent to evil-doers to cease and desist, even as strong or better than the CCTV systems.  Yet, they are typically not use correctly, fail to comply with the governing laws, or are hidden and obscured, so they are rendered ineffective.  The application of appropriate signage is the smartest decision that you can make to proactively protect yourself and your assets.


For the UK citizen, CCTV surveillance is a constant of urban life. The average British citizen is photographed or caught on video an astonishing eight to three hundred times a day.

“…it is unlikely that any urban dweller, in their role of shopper, worker, commuter, resident or school pupil can avoid being passively or actively monitored by camera surveillance systems.”

“Signs should be placed so that the public are aware that they are entering a zone which is covered by surveillance equipment.”

To what extent does the combination of a generalized surveillance and a textual superstructure of signage advising of its action likely to facilitate the automatic functioning of power?  It is difficult to argue that people in their everyday lives are consciously aware of the presence of cameras, let alone concerned at their effect.


Michel Foucault believed that signage had a significant effect, namely, it emphasizes the existence of surveillance and thereby amplifies its effect.

Here is a link to another article that pertains to Foucault’s thinking about the relationship between knowledge and power.

The Panopticon Theory

Signs can be categorized in five ways pertaining to the messages that they represent.  Signs provide the following narrative to the friends and foes:

Statements of fact, wherein it seemed as though the text sought to dispassionately convey warning of the presence of cameras;


Permeation, meaning that the signage (regardless of the qualities of the text) had been absorbed into the urban landscape (or where an effort had obviously been made to effect such an absorption);


Statements of inclusion, where the sign spoke primarily to a population category that might be defined, on the basis of its message, as ‘law-abiding’ and which was invariably reduced to the concept of ‘public’;


Statements of exclusion, in which the focus is on a population category that is seen to be ‘Other than the public’ and therefore a primary focus for the cameras, due to the supposed criminal tendencies harboured by those who constitute such a group;


Double-coded statements, which, using the formulation mobilized by Jencks (1991: 108) in regard to post-modern architecture, speak both to the ‘public’ and the criminal ‘other’ at the same time, offering reassurance to the former and threat to the latter.

Double Coded

Signs are constructed, and this construction can add or detract from their effectiveness.  So, care and forethought must be used to consider the following:

  • The size of the sign
  • The location of the sign
  • Language
  • The fonts used
  • The colours used
  • The graphic elements used
  • The narrative used



In many countries, such as Canada, there are legislative guidelines pertaining to the use of signs for the recording of CCTV content.  Privacy Commissioners demand that proper signs be positioned to easily alert people that CCTV is in use.  Yet, it is very rare indeed to find signage that is actually compliant to these guidelines.  Even some of the largest corporations abuse these rules and do not comply to the proper use of signage for CCTV systems.  Just have a look at the signs at your local gas station the next time you fuel your car.  You will see poor examples everywhere.

Examples of required sign construction elements to be include, but not limited to, are: 1.) The name of the organization that is posting the sign, 2.) A contact telephone number to learn more information, 3.) the address of the operator, 4.) The purpose of the sign, and 5.) A clear indication that you are being recorded on CCTV.

It is disheartening to see the lack of comprehension related to the amplified power of signage to enhance the proactive value of a CCTV system.  It is so powerful and so cost-effective that it is mindboggling to see it all ignored.  I might argue, that the signage alone can act as a stronger deterrent than the CCTV systems.  After all, the CCTV simply become historical logs of recordings of an event.  They are reactive.  Now, I firmly believe that CCTV systems are useful and valuable to a criminal investigation, but without proper signage, they are only 50% effective.


About the Author:

Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless and digital communications technologies.

He is a Senior Executive with IBM Canada’s GTS Network Services Group. Over the past 13 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He was previously a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX).

Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V). 

He serves as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology.

He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario.  For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. 

He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has diplomas and certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology.