The British government has responded to public concern about the vast number of closed circuit surveillance cameras in the UK with a new code of conduct for their use.
There will also be a commissioner to administer it, but that person does not have any power to enforce the code, which also applies to number plate recognition systems.
The commissioner will only be able to suggest best practice to police forces and local authorities which are covered by the code.
The UK government said: “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.”
Britons have mixed feelings about the up to six million cameras in operation there.
In central London one man told euronews: “They’re everywhere. Quite often one doesn’t even see them but we know they’re there. It doesn’t bother me.”
While a woman was ambivalent: “In some aspects it’s good because you feel protected, but another aspect you are being watched all the time so it can be an invasion of privacy.”
Many follow the philosophy that they are a necessary in these days of terrorism. As one Londoner said about the cameras: “I don’t regard them as an invasion of privacy, because we are living in dangerous, volatile times.”
Civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch has called the code of conduct “a step in the right direction” but also wants penalties and laws to enforce the rules.
Emma Carr, Deputy Director of Big Brother Watch told euronews: “We need a code of practice that is more than just a code. It needs to be an enforceable, legal, statute, which means that is enforceable so if you break that code, no matter whether you are public or private sector camera operator, there will be penalties in place to bring you in front of the law and say you have broken the data protection act, you have broken this code of practice and we need to hold you to account.”
Our London correspondent, Ali May, concluded: “When George Orwell came up with ‘Big Brother is Watching You’ in his book ‘1984’, he couldn’t probably imagine that his country, Britain, just over half a century down the line will be using one fifth of the world’s closed circuit cameras to monitor its people’s every move, let alone the coming of a day when a code of practice would be introduced for the use of CCTV.”
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.