UK surveillance camera commissioner releases national strategy

March 15, 2017 - 

UK surveillance camera commissioner Tony Porter has released a national strategy for how CCTV should be operated and to ensure that cameras are not infringing the public’s privacy.

Porter, who is responsible for overseeing the UK’s governance of surveillance cameras, was advised by University of Stirling’s privacy expert Professor William Webster on the development of the strategy.

Designed to help maintain the safety of UK citizens in public places and their privacy rights, the strategy promotes best practice in how organizations use surveillance cameras.

This includes having standardized technical requirements in place to ensure camera footage is of sufficient quality for use as evidence in court, as well as training requirements and expected practices for camera operators, instilling greater public confidence in how the systems are used.

“Britain has more surveillance cameras than any other country in the world,” Webster said. “Their growing prevalence raises critical questions about whether we can be confident that all these cameras are being used in a way the public would approve of – and, if not, whether regulation can force operators into line. The publication of the strategy demonstrates that there will be more concerted efforts to govern how CCTV is used in the future as we try to keep up with changes in technology.”

The guidelines emphasize compliance with the law, especially in relation to data-processing, as well as encourages public engagement activities to enable a greater understanding of CCTV use.

“After a year of hard work I’m delighted to be able to launch this strategy,” Porter said. “It’s a strategy that is far reaching, touching on many areas of surveillance camera use — police and local authority, installers and manufacturers, training providers and regulators — and of course how the use of surveillance cameras impacts members of the public. I look forward to delivering on this for the next three years ensuring that where surveillance cameras are used they keep people safe whilst protecting their right to privacy.”

A recent report by The Conversation argues that the strategy is not without its limitations, starting with the fact that cameras in residential and commercial properties, as well as those operated by the NHS, are not covered by the guidelines.

Operators of these cameras are asked to become “voluntary adopters” of the guidelines.

There has also been some concerns raised about whether the commissioner has the power to enforce his regulations on providers, and what the potential impact would be for failing to follow through.

Another issue is that there is already an information commissioner who has jurisdiction in this area, which makes it unclear as to who is the dominate authority regarding cameras regulation.

In addition, the current strategy does not take into account the use of body cameras by public servants. There is a possibility that future public servants could be outfitted with body cameras integrated with face recognition, people tracking and behavioural recognition capabilities.

The report concedes that surveillance camera processes will be “more opaque, more sophisticated, and potentially integrated with data from a variety of sources,” which means that “any regulatory framework that does not or cannot keep up with the pace of change will soon become worthless.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.