CCTV Surveillance: Getting It Right

Steve Morris writes…

“I keep six honest serving men, they taught me all I know, their names are what, why, when, how, where and who…”

“I know a person small, she keeps ten million serving-men who get no rest at all! – One million how’s, two million where’s, and seven million whys!”

Rudyard Kipling 1902

Well it’s 2015 and we have an estimated 6 million (give or take a million or so!) surveillance cameras within the UK regulated sector, and that does not include those installed by private individuals. Cameras are no longer stuck on the end of poles recording peoples’ movements. They are worn by officials, installed on public transport and can even predict peoples’ behaviour.

Image technology has advanced tremendously in recent years. Data captured by CCTV systems is often automatically interacting with other databases with the capability of providing very intrusive information about the private lives and activities of innocent individuals as well as offenders and those that pose a risk to society.

We are also going through economically difficult times. CCTV and other surveillance technology can be seen a cost effective answer to the resource problem. However, without careful planning and regular review, it can be a costly option that might in fact provide little or no benefit and/or land an organisation in trouble with the various regulators in this sector. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has taken enforcement action involving both number plate recognition systems and cameras  recording customers’ conversations in taxis.

The ICO is not the only regulator in this area. The Surveillance Camera Commissioner is tasked with raising awareness of the Surveillance Camera Code. Made pursuant to the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 it governs the use of surveillance camera systems including CCTV and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) operated by the police and councils in England and Wales.

The Office of the Surveillance Commissioner has oversight in relation to the covert surveillance under Part 2 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000  (RIPA). This often involves the deployment of covert CCTV cameras. Recently Ibrahim Hasan alerted you to the revisions of the two RIPA codes of practice.

So why quote Rudyard Kipling’s poem from 1902?

The overall question revolves around whether a ‘scatter gun approach’ (obtaining lots of private data from lots of cameras) is actually a practical, cost effective use of resources. Furthermore is this approach a lawful, necessary and proportionate approach to addressing a ‘pressing social need’ or problem? Or would a smaller number of cameras providing images and data of the quality required, when it is required, be a better use of resources?

Compliance with the various codes and laws which govern CCTV, is easy if key questions are addressed at the outset:

  1. What is the pressing social need or lawful grounds for the CCTV surveillance activity? What type(s) of devices and system is appropriate? What personal data is going to be collected? What policies and processes should we have?
  2. Why do we need this surveillance in this place? Why is surveillance the option we have chosen?
  3. When should the system be capturing and recording information? When is it right to share this information?
  4. How will the system be managed? How much private information are we obtaining about individuals? How will we ensure it is kept secure?
  5. Where will the cameras be positioned? Where will we store the data?
  6. Who will we be watching? Who will have access to the collected information?

Looking for an opportunity to discuss these questions and many others, and to examine the regulatory requirements in relation to the decision making process? Attend one of my CCTV workshops and be brought right up to date with the latest laws, codes of practice and guidance.

Steve Morris is an ex police officer and one of our experts in surveillance law trainers.

This entry was posted in CCTV, Privacy, RIPA, Surveillance and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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