By Jonathan Bamford, Head of Strategic Liason.
It’s fair to say that 2000, when we first published our guidance on CCTV, feels like a very long time ago. Back then, what we meant by CCTV needed little explanation, immediately conjuring up thoughts of video cameras on poles.
How times change. Today we’ve begun consulting on an updated version of our CCTV code of practice that includes everything from automatic recognition of car number plates to flying drones.
Those two examples are both from the emerging technologies section, which perhaps makes for some of the most interesting reading. There’s a section in there on body worn cameras, for instance, which have attracted headlines recently as the Metropolitan Police Service announced their roll out.
But while the examples in the guidance may be new to some, the underlying principles remain the same: organisations need to take the time to think through how cameras and the information they capture will be used.
Because although CCTV clearly has its benefits, it can also clearly be intrusive. What thought’s been given to the views of the people it will be filming? What’s going to happen to the hours and hours of recorded footage and information? And what other less intrusive ideas have been thought about?
The guidance we’ve put out for consultation includes a good example around body worn cameras. The camera may prove invaluable if switched on by a Parking Enforcement Officer when they fear someone is becoming aggressive, but does it need to be recording when someone has simply stopped them to ask for directions?
But it’s not just technology and practice that have changed. The regulatory environment has too, with specific legislation aimed at some operators of surveillance cameras. The ICO has taken enforcement action involving both number plate recognition and cameras recording people’s conversations in taxis. The revised guidance deals with these changes too.
And getting it right is more important than ever. Not only does the Data Protection Act continue to put clear obligations on organisations using CCTV, but public opinion is perhaps much stronger than 14 years ago. There’s awareness by the public of the benefits and drawbacks of surveillance. The Department of Transport’s recent consultation on whether local authorities are now going too far in their use of cameras to detect parking and other offences shows continued public and political concern.
Although our original code was revised back in 2008, it’s important that it’s bang up to date. This doesn’t just help operators comply with the law and adopt good practice; it helps them inspire public trust and confidence in their surveillance activities. Take a look at the revision and tell us what you think.