Report from Surveillance Camera Commissioner says local authorities are failing get accreditation to standards and not spending on professional managers
Local authority leaders lack knowledge of the Code of Practice for CCTV cameras and must be reminded of their “requirements”, a watchdog has warned.
The Surveillance Camera Commissioner has announced he is writing to all council leaders and chief executives, telling them to “have regard to the code”.
In his annual report, Tony Porter has highlighted how just 2% of authorities have accredited to the British Standard for operating a CCTV control room, known as BS7958.
He also warned that they are replacing professional CCTV managers with more junior staff to save money, creating “a real threat” that skills and knowledge will be lost.
Porter said he had developed a “self-assessment tool” to enable councils to assess their compliance with the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice (Protection of Freedoms Act Code) (PoFA).
But he wrote: “I’m not able to gain an understanding of where the tool has been downloaded and then completed.
“Therefore, I am writing to all chief executives of local authorities to remind them of their obligation to show regard to the PoFA Code as a relevant authority and encourage all to complete the self-assessment tool and tell me when this has been done.
“Next year I will publish a guide for council leaders and endeavour to work with all local authority chief executives to ensure they are aware of their requirements to ‘have regard to the code’.”
On councils’ failure to pay £1,400 to sign up to the British Standard, the Commissioner added: “It clearly suggests a worrying lack of compliance to recognised standards. Given the issue in hand being ‘surveillance of the public in public space’ I do not find this acceptable as an excuse.”
Porter also said county and district councils were failing to monitor CCTV systems, or handing over responsibility to town councils, in order to avoid the costs of running them. And he highlighted the increasing use of “generalists”, who lack knowledge of either the Code of Practice introduced by the coalition government, or of the Data Protection Act.
His report says: “Cost cutting is causing some local authorities to replace professional CCTV managers. This has been presented to me by several managers as a real threat to proper adherence to the regulatory framework and a dilution of skills and knowledge base in the sector.”
A further problem was that much local authority CCTV is “not of a high enough specification to support emerging technology such as facial recognition and video analytics”.
The commissioner said: “So, whilst the technology is there, a question remains whether it can be successfully used.”
He also warned he “lacks teeth”, urging ministers to give him powers to carry out inspections and impose punishments on CCTV operators breaking the code.
Image: Otto Normalverbraucher, public domain via Wikimedia Commons