06 August 2012

Qld Cameras

The compliance review report [PDF] by the Queensland Office of the Information Commissioner on Camera Surveillance and Privacy: Review of camera surveillance use by Queensland government agencies and compliance with the privacy principles in the Information Privacy Act 2009 (Qld) has been tabled in the state Parliament.

The review examined camera surveillance in Queensland government agencies (including local government and public authorities), in particular the extent to which camera surveillance systems were designed and operated with privacy considerations in mind and an audit of camera surveillance usage. 

The 173 page report notes that
The reviewed camera surveillance systems were generally operated in a practical way, in order to deliver public safety and security, and with respect for privacy. This could be attributed almost entirely to the experience and commitment of the operatives who set up and run the systems. 
However, there were significant privacy-related gaps in the administration of the systems. One common example was the inability for individuals to discover or access footage which contained images of them. Another example was that arrangements with other agencies, particularly the Queensland Police Service, were operating informally, creating ambiguity about management responsibilities, such as ensuring that the use and disclosure of the footage was in accordance with the privacy principles. Each gap represents a risk, which if left unmanaged, could result in a privacy breach that could significantly affect members of the community. This review found this situation had arisen through a lack of corporate level direction and review and a lack of documented policies and procedures that addressed the complete spectrum of relevant considerations.
Acting Qld Privacy Commissioner Lemm Ex commented that -
By and large, the 20,000 or more cameras being operated by Queensland government agencies are being operated with attention to privacy issues. This has largely been due to the efforts of the operational staff, who have applied common sense to the development and operation of the systems. 
The ambiguity surrounding management responsibilities of camera surveillance systems represents a risk, which if left unmanaged, could result in a significant privacy breach. 
Agencies’ privacy vulnerabilities would be greatly reduced if corporate attention was given to the operation of the camera surveillance systems with privacy considerations in mind. 
This report recommends that all Queensland government agencies review their camera surveillance systems, and the policies and procedures regarding their governance to improve compliance with the privacy principles under the Information Privacy Act 2009 (Qld).
The report recommends that all Queensland government agencies operating camera surveillance systems:
  • implement a system for tracking the number and details of surveillance cameras operated by the agency. 
  • obtain and evaluate evidence regarding the effectiveness of camera surveillance for the purpose identified, the ongoing costs and benefits of camera surveillance systems and the features of camera surveillance systems required for the system to fulfil the agency’s purposes, before an agency implements or expands camera surveillance systems
  • ensure the management of their camera surveillance systems is consistent with their given reasons for the camera surveillance, both in documented policies and procedures, and in practice. 
  • ensure that information collected by the camera surveillance system is complete and up-to-date, including through clear policies and procedures for storage, retention and disposal of camera surveillance footage, and training. 
  • review the extent to which they have provided notices to the community about the use of camera surveillance, particularly in the immediate vicinity of the cameras.
  • ensure data security practices protect camera surveillance footage against loss, unauthorised access, disclosure, modification or other misuse and that these practices are described in documented policies and procedures. 
  • publish information about their holdings of camera surveillance footage including the currency of the footage, so that individuals can discover if there is any camera surveillance footage held by the agency which might contain images of them. 
  • provide publicly accessible information, preferably in the vicinity of each of the cameras they operate, informing the community of the camera’s ownership and a point of contact for the relevant agency. 
  • ensure they have policies and procedures in place which detail how individuals can obtain from an agency any camera surveillance footage which contains images of them, subject to exemptions prescribed in the Information Privacy Act 2009 (Qld). 
  • actively inform the community of the presence of camera surveillance systems, the rationale for their deployment, the privacy safeguards for the system and the mechanism by which the community can apply for access to the surveillance footage. 
  • review the way in which camera surveillance footage is scanned and material extracted in response to requests for copies of the footage, and ensure this process is demonstrably consistent with the privacy principles. 
  • ensure policies and procedures are in place for use and disclosure of personal information that ensure that personal information is used for secondary purposes or disclosed only as provided for in the Information Privacy Act 2009 (Qld), for example, with the consent of the individuals concerned; to prevent serious threats to health, safety or welfare; for law enforcement; or for research purposes. 
  • develop administrative arrangements for disclosure of information where this is usual practice, for example, a Memorandum of Understanding with the Queensland Police Service, and adopt a standardised request form which ensures disclosure of camera surveillance footage is in accordance with the privacy principles. 
  • review contracts with private security contractors to ensure contracts bind the contractors to compliance with the privacy principles. 
  • develop policies and procedures to ensure that any camera surveillance footage transferred overseas, for example placed on the internet, is done within a clear legislative authority.
Those recommendations reflect the report's conclusion that
By and large, the cameras … are being operated by people who were mindful of privacy issues. This was primarily due to the efforts of operational staff, who have applied common sense to the development and operation of the systems.
Nevertheless, the over arching finding of this review is that Queensland public sector agencies have further work to do in identifying, managing and reducing existing privacy risks to the community associated with agency use of camera surveillance footage. This is particularly critical given the increasing use of camera surveillance by Queensland government agencies and the need to satisfy higher community expectations regarding the management of such privacy risks.
Generally, executive management have not adequately turned their minds to the governance questions about camera surveillance: questions of the reason for having camera surveillance; the scope and boundaries of its use; its effectiveness, as demonstrated by hard evidence; how the camera footage should be used, disclosed, kept or destroyed; and most relevantly for this review, the privacy rights of individuals.
The disconnection between corporate governance and local operations has resulted in a range of privacy impacts, including concerning signs that legislative non-compliance is occurring in some respects. Widespread camera surveillance has costs, not least in the area of privacy. When a surveillance system is poorly managed, public concerns can arise about the advent of a ‘Big Brother’ culture, which includes a range of concerns about unnecessary surveillance, poorly targeted surveillance, costs outweighing benefits, information being gathered about individuals for secret or inappropriate purposes, lack of access and accountability in government and generally that the system is degraded and ineffective. These concerns are particularly liable to arise if the camera system fails to deliver on advertised benefits such as the prevention of crime.
What are those supposed benefits?  The report notes that five rationales are typically advanced for CCTV -
  • reassuring the public and thus increasing feelings of safety or reducing fear of crime; 
  • preventing crime and disorder by acting as an effective psychological deterrent to potential offenders; 
  • aiding the detection of crime and disorder and enabling a greater proportion of crime to come to the attention of police or security personnel; 
  • enhancing the apprehension and successful prosecution of offenders by enabling the effective deployment of officers and the gathering of evidence; or 
  • acting as a general site management tool that assists police or security personnel to effectively manage locations. 
It notes that “research has not found that camera surveillance necessarily delivers on these purposes".

The report is a useful complement to the broader Surveillance in Public Places – Final Report [PDF] by the Victorian Law Reform Commission in 2010 and the 2011 WA Auditor General report on Use of CCTV Equipment and Information [PDF] noted here.