Tesco’s new scanner sounds harmless enough – a camera that just works out whether you’re male or female, and roughly how old you are.
The advertisements shown on the screen change, and I’m sure quickly you’ll see cases of men with long hair being mistaken for women, to much hilarity from their friends.
There are two fundamental problems here; not least the fact that the only way you can ensure your face is not scanned is to not go into the shop.
Firstly, should we really be increasing the amount of surveillance we’re under so some companies can sell more advertising?
Secondly, the technology isn’t going to stay the same and be used in the same way.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has announced plans to install hidden cameras and ‘mystery shoppers’ in care homes in a bid to increase the regulations of social care. Care homes and social care premises are home for some of society’s most vulnerable people. To subject them to covert surveillance where there is not reasonable cause for suspicion would be both an attack on their privacy and dignity.
In a signposting document which has been published today ahead of a full public consultation, Andrea Sutcliffe, Britain’s first Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care, said: “We would like to have an open conversation with people about the use of mystery shoppers and hidden cameras, and whether they would contribute to promoting a culture of safety and quality, while respecting people’s rights to privacy and dignity.”
The National Crime Agency (NCA) has been launched today by the Home Office with announcements that it will have access to some of the most high tech surveillance tools available but will also promote an environment of transparency and openness. Yet, with an exemption from the Freedom of Act and being regulated by outdated legislation, how accountable will the Agency be?
The NCA has billed itself as being more open and transparent than its predecessors, yet it won’t be subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) on the basis that this would “jeopardise its operational effectiveness and ultimately result in lower levels of protection for the public.” Considering the Agency will have highly intrusive surveillance techniques at its disposal, it is remarkable that it is allowed to be able to use them behind a cloak of secrecy. FOI would not prevent intelligence sharing, protecting sources of information or expose police tactics and technology. Indeed, every police force in the country and the Association of Chief Police Officers all manage to operate with FOI applying to them.
If CCTV cameras are about public protection, why are they bringing in £300m in revenue from parking enforcement?
Firstly – and this goes to the heart of what Big Brother Watch has been campaigning on – the public are never, ever told that this is part of the deal when they accept greater CCTV surveillance. The rhetoric is always about violent crime, anti-social behavior and catching criminals. Would the public be as willing to accept yet more cameras if they had the full facts about how cameras are used?
If anyone can find us an example of a council justifying it’s need for greater CCTV on parking problems we’d love to hear about it.
Today a new Code of Practice on the use of CCTV comes into force, to sit alongside the new position of Surveillance Camera Commissioner.
The code is a step in the right direction towards bringing proper oversight to the millions of cameras that capture our movements every day. However, with only a small fraction of cameras covered and without any penalties for breaking the code, we hope that this is only the beginning of the process and that further steps will be taken in the future to protect people’s privacy from unjustified or excessive surveillance.
Given that the responsibility for legally enforcing the Data Protection Act with regard to CCTV (apart from private cameras, which remain exempt) will remain with the Information Commissioner, we are concerned that public confidence will not be helped if the process of making a complaint and action being taken is not straightforward. Equally, the situation of private cameras not being subject to regulation, with the only power available to the police to prosecute for harassment, is unsustainable as the number of people using them increases.
The Home Secretary yesterday confirmed plans to regulate private investigators, including a new penalty for working as an unlicensed private investigator or supplying unlicensed investigators of a fine of up to £5,000 and up to six months in prison.
In our report earlier this year, we warned that private investigators were potentially being used to circumvent surveillance law by public authorities, and also identified their work as being a major threat to privacy where the information could be used in court if it had been obtained by improper means. We are pleased the Home Office has agreed with our recommendation to regulate private investigators.
We also highlighted in our evidence to the Leveson inquiry how journalists were not the only people using private investigators and that the wider issue was essential to address. As recent revelations about SOCA show, this is a very real problem and potentially involves a much greater scale of illegal activity than seen in the media.
While the Data Protection Act does offer legal protections, at present you cannot be sent to prison for breaching Section 55. We believe that this change will improve privacy protections, particularly as it broadens out the range of activities that might have been difficult to prosecute under the DPA. It is also important that those hiring a PI will be held liable if they are not properly licensed.
There is much more work to be done to ensure that people’s privacy and confidential information is protected from untoward surveillance and intrusion, including more rigorous enforcement of the Data Protection Act and custodial sentences. Regulating private investigators is an important part of this process.
Going forward, we hope that the consideration of whether evidence is admitted in court takes into account whether the regulatory framework has been complied with, particularly where those involved are aware that they are acting without a license.
Having recently posted about local councils reducing the number of CCTV cameras in their local area it seems that the Government has taken the additional step to ensure that pub landlords aren’t forced into using CCTV when it is not necessary to do so.
Concerns were raised by pub landlords and the public that council licensing authorities have been making CCTV a legal condition of every pub license. To tackle the problem, the Government has announced that the blanket use of surveillance in pubs will end, with a new stricter code of practice being in place that will strike a proper balance between privacy and security.
Community Pubs Minister, Brandon Lewis MP, commented that:
“CCTV has a role to play in stopping and deterring crime in anti-social behaviour hotspots. But well-run community pubs that don’t have a public order problem shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush.
Today’s Gloucester Citizen carries a remarkable story about “husband and wife councillors who watch CCTV of kids on their living room telly”.
As the paper reports, “Hardwicke Parish Council duo Fran and Lyn Welbourne have been so pro-active in monitoring the village youth shelter that they have the live footage beamed right into their home.”
It beggars belief that someone thought it appropriate to allow Councillors to have public CCTV of a youth centre piped into their living rooms.
These people are not trained employees, nor licensed CCTV operators. It smacks of taxpayer-funded voyeurism and will do nothing to actually tackle the problem that is causing concern. It would be more effective to have the councillors actually stood at the youth shelter, if they are so keen to keep an eye on what is going on.
As we have repeatedly highlighted, CCTV does little to deter or prevent crime, and at best displaces the activity a short distance.
Perhaps the Councillors should spend some of their evidently quiet evenings asking why there is a problem rather than indulging their new hobby of sofa snooping.
One in five councils have reduced the number of CCTV cameras on the streets since 2010, with some having no cameras at all. Cost should not be the reason for making decisions about the tools needed to keep the public safe. We have long argued for an approach based on community policing and the ‘broken windows’ experience from the USA. CCTV diverts resources away from efforts that have been proven to be more effective while increasing the blanket nature of public surveillance. Rather than just cutting cameras, how many councils are looking at what actually works to reduce crime?
Crime statistics from September 2012 showed that there had been an 8% decrease compared to the previous year’s survey; driven by significant reductions in vandalism, burglary and vehicle related theft. What is important is that crime is falling and the number of CCTV cameras is falling. Yet again the evidence demonstrates there’s – at best – a tenuous link and in reality no link between the number of CCTV cameras and crime levels.
The Freedom of Information request was submitted by Labour MP Gloria de Piero, of which 209 out of a total 326 local authorities in England responded to the request, 46 councils reported a reduction or have no “public facing” (not private cameras) CCTV cameras at all.
Southampton Council’s attempt to justify it’s policy of requiring taxis to record audio and video of every journey took another blow yesterday when the ‘First Tier Tribunal’ ruled against it.
The case stems from a complaint made by Big Brother Watch and others to the ICO, and led to Oxford council abandoning it’s policy and Southampton being given an ‘enforcement notice’ – essentially a prosecution for breaching the Data Protection Act.
As reported by the barrister’s chambers 11KBW, who acted for the Information Commissioner’s Office in the case, “what the Council disputed was (1) the conclusion that the policy involved the processing of “sensitive personal data” as well as personal data; and (2) the ICO’s finding that the recording and retention of audio data was a disproportionate interference with passengers’ privacy rights under Article 8 of the European Convention.”
On both points, the tribunal ruled against the council, saying the policy was disproportionate and accepting the risk of “function creep”.
With lawyers highlighting that this case sets an important precedent for surveillance and data protection law, we hope that in future councils will not be so quick to implement policies that so blatantly trample on the privacy of people without any kind of justification.
The only decision Southampton Council can now make is to abandon this ludicrous policy and we will be writing to them to demand they do so immediately.