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Councils urged to be open about CCTV data


Draft national strategy says public need reassurance about ‘proportionality and effectiveness’ of surveillance

Local authorities in England and Wales should reveal whether they share data from CCTV cameras with other organisations, a report handed to the Government recommends.

The move is necessary to ease public fears about the “proportionality and effectiveness” of the cameras, the surveillance commissioner has said in a draft national strategy, published last week.

Tony Porter has made the call while revealing there are now at least 6 million CCTV cameras in Britain, recording different aspects of life – around one for every 10 people. The number is far higher if automatic number plate recognition cameras, body-worn video and drones are taken into account. Yet many are effectively useless, because they are poor quality or in the wrong place.

The verdict comes despite the Coalition Government being elected in 2010 on a pledge to "roll back the surveillance state" - to ensure "surveillance by consent".

In trying to address that, Porter has listed 10 objectives, including one to require local councils to lift the lid on what they do with their CCTV data.

Proactive approach

The strategy recommends that: “Local authorities proactively share information about the operation of a surveillance camera system in exercising any of its functions and any data sharing arrangements with third parties, so that the public are reassured about the proportionality and effectiveness of surveillance cameras.”

However, in a far cry from the 2010 talk of rolling back surveillance, the draft strategy states: “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 need; proportionate; effective, and; compliant with any relevant legal obligations.”

It also states a firm belief that the public agrees, with 86% of people telling a survey last year that they supported the use of CCTV in public places.

Nevertheless, the strategy adds: “As the way devices are used changes, such as increased use of automatic facial recognition and body worn video, they may become more intrusive and will this support remain the same?

“Transparency and therefore understanding will become more of a priority as technological advances challenge our views on citizens’ right to privacy.”

Porter, a former counter-terrorism officer, criticised a ‘default response’ to install cameras in public spaces when it is not appropriate.

Necessity and compliance

He warned: “These figures are indicative of the scale of surveillance yet give no real indication whether surveillance is necessary nor of compliance with good practice or legislative requirements.

“My concern is about the introduction of poor surveillance that doesn’t benefit society.

“We have millions of cameras in this country and Europeans look at us askance that our society actually accepts the volume of cameras we do.”

Image: Otto Normalverbraucher, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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