UK Information Commissioner’s Office issues CCTV code of practice and a warnting about the use of surveillance cameras

October 16, 2014 |

On 15 October 2014 the UK Information Commissioner’s office issued its updated CCTV code of practice (found here). As the press release notes the UK is one of the leading users of CCTV in the world.  Australia fares poorly by comparison with the UK in terms of privacy protections through the use of CCTV.  The absence of specific code of practice and the lack of guidelines and codes of practice at the Federal level is disappointing.  In New South Wales local governments have been exempt from the operations of the Privacy and Personal Information Act 1998 (see here for fact sheet) for reasons which are more to do with politics than public policy.  The Victorian Privacy Commissioner issued a fact sheet in March 2012 titled Surveillance and Privacy which is better than other jurisdictions but does not go nearly far enough to cover the privacy invasive issues arising out of CCTV technology.  And then there are the very significant gaps in regulation.  Australia has a lot of catching up to do.

The ICO media release provides:

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has warned operators that surveillance cameras must only be used as a necessary and proportionate response to a real and pressing problem.

The warning comes on the day the ICO published its updated CCTV code of practice (pdf). The update includes a look at the data protection requirements placed on operators of new and emerging surveillance technologies, including drones and body worn video cameras.

ICO Head of Strategic Liaison, Jonathan Bamford, said:

“The UK is one of the leading users of CCTV and other surveillance technologies in the world. The technology on the market today is able to pick out even more people to be recorded in ever greater detail. In some cases, that detail can then be compared with other databases, for instance when automatic number plate recognition is used. This brings new opportunities to tackle problems such as crime, but also potential threats to privacy if they are just being used to record innocent members of the public without good reason.

“Surveillance cameras should not be deployed as a quick fix, but a proportionate response to a real and pressing problem. Putting in surveillance cameras or technology like automatic number plate recognition and body worn video is often seen as the first option, but before deploying it you need to understand the problem and whether that is an effective and proportionate solution. Failure to do proper privacy impact assessments in advance has been a common theme in our enforcement cases.”

The updated code explains how CCTV and other forms of camera surveillance can be used to process people’s information. The guidance explains the issues that operators should consider before installing such surveillance technology, the measures that organisations should have in place to make sure excessive amounts of personal information aren’t being collected and the steps organisations should have to make sure the information is kept secure and destroyed once it is no longer required.  

The ICO’s CCTV Code of Practice complements the provisions in the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice, which applies to police forces, local authorities and police and crime commissioners in England and Wales, as described in the Protection of Freedoms Act. The ICO’s guidance covers a wider area, as the requirements of the Data Protection Act apply to all sectors processing personal information across the whole of the UK, including the private sector. The Data Protection Act does not apply to people using CCTV for their domestic use.

Recent enforcement action taken by the ICO to stop the excessive use of CCTV includes an enforcement notice served on Southampton City Council after the council required the video and audio recording of the city’s taxi passengers 24 hours a day. The ICO also served an enforcement notice on Hertfordshire Constabulary after the force began using Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras to record every car entering and leaving the small rural town of Royston in Hertfordshire. In both cases the excessive use of surveillance cameras was reduced following the ICO’s action

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