19 April 2014


In the UK the Surveillance Camera Commissioner (SCC) is reported by the UK Independent as warning that the public face "a very real risk" to their privacy from ANPR and CCTV.

The Commissioner has urged that
clear guidance be provided to ensure “innocent” people do not fall victim to roadside automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras which have been the centre of concerns over the rise of surveillance in Britain. 
Through the Commissioner's interview with the newspaper UK  police have supposedly been "put on notice over their use of personal data". Regrettably there is no statement on the SCC site.

The Independent states that
Local authorities control more than 50,000 cameras while thousands of roadside cameras collect owner information on more than 18 million car journeys every day, in a swift and unregulated expansion over the past 30 years.
Police have declined to say how many cameras are used for the ANPR system, but it has the capacity to check information on up to 50 million cars every day, and cross-check it with other police databases to trace wanted offenders.
The information, which according to police has led to important intelligence gathering and tens of thousands of arrests every year, is retained for up to two years, even when there is no evidence of any wrongdoing.
But reports into three cases that highlighted failings in the system prompted the police watchdog to warn that the scale of the system meant it was “impossible” to achieve its full potential. In April 2012, the database held almost 11.2 billion vehicle sightings.
“I think there has to be very clear guidance to officers about the way in which ANPR is used and once it has been used, ensuring that data is removed or at least is updated to that effect. I think that’s crucial,” said Mr Porter, a former senior police anti-terror officer.
“There is a very real risk that if systems aren’t adhered to innocent members of the public could be put at risk of having their privacy impacted upon. I can see the value of understanding how many ANPR cameras there are. There are other concerns that have been expressed … the large data-grab of information and the period of retention of that information.”to encourage compliance with the surveillance camera code of practice.
The office of the Commissioner was created under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (UK) to regulate CCTV. It is independent of the Information Commissioner (counterpart of the OAIC in Australia).

The 2012 statute required a Code of Practice regarding surveillance camera systems. That Code of Practice sets out guidelines for CCTV and ANPR. It is not applicable to domestic use in private households.

The Code states -
Surveillance camera systems are deployed extensively within England and Wales, and these systems form part of a complex landscape of ownership and operation. Where used appropriately, these systems are valuable tools which contribute to public safety and security and in protecting both people and property.
The government is fully supportive of the use of overt surveillance cameras in a public place whenever that use is: in pursuit of a legitimate aim; necessary to meet a pressing need2; proportionate; effective, and; compliant with any relevant legal obligations.
The purpose of the code will be to ensure that individuals and wider communities have confidence that surveillance cameras are deployed to protect and support them, rather than spy on them. The government considers that wherever overt surveillance in public places is in pursuit of a legitimate aim and meets a pressing need, any such surveillance should be characterised as surveillance by consent, and such consent on the part of the community must be informed consent and not assumed by a system operator.
Surveillance by consent should be regarded as analogous to policing by consent. In the British model of policing, police officers are citizens in uniform. They exercise their powers to police their fellow citizens with the implicit consent of their fellow citizens. Policing by consent is the phrase used to describe this. It denotes that the legitimacy of policing in the eyes of the public is based upon a general consensus of support that follows from transparency about their powers, demonstrating integrity in exercising those powers and their accountability for doing so.
In order to achieve this, the code sets out guiding principles that should apply to all surveillance camera systems in public places. These guiding principles are designed to provide a framework for operators and users of surveillance camera systems so that there is proportionality and transparency in their use of surveillance, and systems are capable of providing good quality images and other information which are fit for purpose.
The 12 principles are -
1. Use of a surveillance camera system must always be for a specified purpose which is in pursuit of a legitimate aim and necessary to meet an identified pressing need.
2. The use of a surveillance camera system must take into account its effect on individuals and their privacy, with regular reviews to ensure its use remains justified.
3. There must be as much transparency in the use of a surveillance camera system as possible, including a published contact point for access to information and complaints.
4. There must be clear responsibility and accountability for all surveillance camera system activities including images and information collected, held and used.
5. Clear rules, policies and procedures must be in place before a surveillance camera system is used, and these must be communicated to all who need to comply with them.
6. No more images and information should be stored than that which is strictly required for the stated purpose of a surveillance camera system, and such images and information should be deleted once their purposes have been discharged.
7. Access to retained images and information should be restricted and there must be clearly defined rules on who can gain access and for what purpose such access is granted; the disclosure of images and information should only take place when it is necessary for such a purpose or for law enforcement purposes.
8. Surveillance camera system operators should consider any approved operational, technical and competency standards relevant to a system and its purpose and work to meet and maintain those standards.
9. Surveillance camera system images and information should be subject to appropriate security measures to safeguard against unauthorised access and use.
10. There should be effective review and audit mechanisms to ensure legal requirements, policies and standards are complied with in practice, and regular reports should be published.
11. When the use of a surveillance camera system is in pursuit of a legitimate aim, and there is a pressing need for its use, it should then be used in the most effective way to support public safety and law enforcement with the aim of processing images and information of evidential value.
12. Any information used to support a surveillance camera system which compares against a reference database for matching purposes should be accurate and kept up to date.
The SCC role is to -
  • encourage compliance with the surveillance camera code of practice
  •  review how the code is working 
  • provide advice to ministers on whether or not the code needs amending.
Importantly (and fostering suspicions that the SCC is a potemkin regulator) the commissioner has no enforcement or inspection powers but "works with relevant authorities to make them aware of their duty to have regard to the code". The Commissioner must consider how best to encourage voluntary adoption of the code by other operators of surveillance camera systems.

The Commissioner is responsible for -
  • providing advice on the effective, appropriate, proportionate and transparent use of surveillance camera systems 
  • reviewing how the code is working and if necessary add others to the list of authorities who must have due regard to the code 
  • providing advice on operational and technical standards 
  • encouraging voluntary compliance with the code.
The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) has meanwhile reported that nearly one in 10 members now have CCTV cameras in their classrooms, expressing concern that although CCTV was supposedly introduced to enhance pupil and teacher safety (and act as a deterrent to bad behaviour) it is now being used by executives to assess teaching standards.

89% of NASUWT members reporting on CCTV in the classroom indicated that they could not switch off the cameras, with 88% indicating that there was constant recording of lessons, 55% said headteachers were viewing the video and 41% believing it was used to form negative views of staff.

The union's General Secretary, with a grab for the soundbite, stated that “Lab rats have more professional privacy" -
This is yet another example of how teachers are being undermined and stripped of their professionalism.  Teachers are already wrestling with excessive monitoring, masquerading as classroom observation, carried out by senior management and a host of other people regularly visiting their classrooms.  Now, in some schools, they are being subjected to permanent surveillance through CCTV cameras. In some cases, teachers have reported having their private conversations filmed when the school was not in session.