Yesterday the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) announced that it has launched a consultation to update the CCTV code of practice. The world that we now live in has changed immensely since the code was first published in 2000 and so it is absolutely right that we have a new code that will include guidance on everything from automatic recognition of car number plates to body worn cameras to flying drones.
When updated guidance was published last summer, alongside the new position of Surveillance Camera Commissioner (SCC), we saw this as 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 (around 5%) and without any penalties for breaking the code, we hope that this new consultation will be the beginning of the process which ensures that further steps are taken to protect people’s privacy from unjustified or excessive surveillance.
We also remain concerned that, 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 ICO rather than the SCC, 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.
One example that the ICO gives on the need for an updated code of practice is around body worn cameras (BWC). The use of BWC has been widely publicised due to the Metropolitan Police, as well as other Forces around the country, piloting their use. The ICO state that whilst the cameras may prove invaluable if switched on when they fear someone is becoming aggressive, does it actually need to be recording when someone has simply stopped them to ask them a question?
The ICO also notes that it is not just technology that has changed, but the regulatory environment has too, with specific legislation now aimed at some operators of surveillance cameras. Following complaints by Big Brother Watch, the ICO has also taken enforcement action involving both number plate recognition and cameras recording people’s conversations in taxis.
It is pleasing that the ICO has recognised that it is more important than ever for them to get this right. They are absolutely right to suggest that public opinion is much stronger than 14 years ago. However, as CCTV technology improves it is essential that people are able to access meaningful redress where their privacy is infringed. We remain committed to the principle that the SCC must be given the powers and the resources to take action otherwise the public will rightly ask if the surveillance state continues to escape accountability.
Big Brother Watch will be responding to the ICO’s consultation, and we encourage as many of you as possible to do the same.