The updated version of the Information Commissioner’s CCTV Code of Practice address the rising phenomena of surveillance technologies and methods. No longer are surveillance cameras passive image collectors, providing a resource for immediate use or historical evidence.
CCTV, ANPR, Body Worn Cameras, Aerial Drones, together with the associated analytical tools and software, are all technologies being used within many public and private sector organisations.
These technologies are invaluable for efficient and effective public protection as well as revenue collection and enforcement activities. Just one such example might be lone workers performing a caring function and for their safety, wearing audio and video recording equipment when they leave the safety of their own home. These persons then enter the private dwelling of a vulnerable person in need of assistance. In some instances the video and audio will be running throughout the whole of the attendance – often with a live feed to a control room. The benefits for the safety of the carer are clear, and the immediate response and advice by control room personnel is undoubtedly beneficial for the person requiring assistance. But this equipment is capturing images and conversation of an individual, and perhaps family and friends, within that person’s private home. The images and conversation, being witnessed by others many miles away is likely to be very intimate and private.
Does this vulnerable person or those responsible for them realise this is actually taking place?
Do they consent to it as a part of the provision of the service?
Before a public authority undertakes such activity it must conduct a privacy impact assessment, and perhaps obtain consent for the collection and processing of such information. Without such consideration – and a record of such assessment, then it might easily be argued that the organisation has not shown “Respect for the private life” in accordance with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and the activity might be deemed to be unlawful – and indeed might be in breach of the Data Protection Act 1998. The Care Quality Commission has issued guidance on use of cameras in care homes.
The Surveillance Camera Commissioner, Tony Porter, pursuing compliance with a Code of Practice issued in accordance with the Protection of Freedoms Act has identified several aspects non-compliance when it comes to CCTV cameras:
Inadequate or non-existent privacy impact assessments
Equipment deployed with no respect or consideration for privacy or consideration for the benefit balanced with intrusion (proportionality)
Equipment in use not fit for purpose
Excessive use of surveillance
Removal of surveillance such as CCTV to reduce costs with little regard for the void left in relation to public safety and security
In a speech to the CCTV User Group, Mr Porter said budget cuts had led councils to decide to spend less on public space CCTV, meaning there was less money for staff training, poorer understanding of legal issues and a reduced service. He said councils could face greater scrutiny of their use of CCTV, including potential inspections and enforcement. Organisations should carry out annual reviews of their CCTV capacity but many failed to do so. He cited a West Midlands local authority which, upon review, reduced the number of ineffective cameras and saved £250,000 in the process.
Mr Porter, who has been in his post since March 2014, has written to council chief executives to remind them of the law and code of practice.
My latest series of one day CCTV law workshops examine the ‘surveillance landscape’ and the regulatory regime of the Information Commissioner, the Office of the Surveillance Commissioner, and the Surveillance Camera Commissioner. Attendees will be able to identify which regime(s) and codes of practice apply to their surveillance activity, and how to manage efficient, effective and lawful surveillance systems.
Steve Morris is an ex police officer and one of our expert surveillance law trainers. His CCTV law workshops take place in Manchester and London in October.