The CCTV User Group has called on the Home Secretary to strengthen the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice by expanding the list of relevant authorities and taking account of advances in technology.
We were responding to the Home Office consultation on revision of the Code of Practice. This is the first time that the Home Office has sought to revise the Code since it was first adopted in 2013. Since then, there have been a lot of developments in CCTV, not least in the technology of the cameras and the software to manage them.
The deadline for submitting responses was 8 September. The Group held an online consultation session for Members last month at which we discussed and agreed a number of points which became part of our consultation response.
You can read a copy of our consultation response here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1GJxCNo0ij3TIbbQxQXDZAAcmVq1uEg6qqkqJh6Evyck/edit?usp=sharing
It runs to six pages so if you don’t want to read the entire document, here’s the one minute version – OK, maybe two minutes ;-)
Summary of our response
The CCTV User Group drew up one of the first codes of practice for CCTV surveillance systems, a document which we shared with the first surveillance camera commissioner in 2013 and which, we are pleased to say, formed the basis for his new Code. We actively promote the Code to Members and the wider industry.
After eight years the Code has become progressively out of date and we believe it is in need of a significant revision. Given that, we believe the current proposals to revise the Code don’t go far enough.
The Code has failed to keep up with changes in technology. These include advances in ‘smart’ CCTV including but not limited to facial recognition. The proposed revisions to the Code include new guidance on the use of live facial recognition, but we believe it should go further.
Cameras have also become more sensitive, in terms of resolution and tolerance for a wider range of lighting conditions, and we have seen a significant migration from analogue to IP camera technology which has exposed the industry to significant cybersecurity threats.
Body worn video has also become a thing in the past eight years, and we are seeing rapid growth in mobile technology, cloud storage and the ability to share images.
Meanwhile, we have also seen a rapid growth in the deployment of CCTV by the private sector and some public authorities which are not considered ‘relevant authorities’ under the Code. As a consequence, you have a strange situation in which town centres are covered by the Code but adjacent areas – which are classified as publicly accessible areas – are not covered.
As it stands now, a member of the public, in a typical journey, might use public transport to visit a government department such as the DHSS followed by a health centre or hospital and a trip to a shopping mall adjacent to a town centre, during which time they would have been under the protection of a different CCTV system in each of those areas. Yet in that entire journey, they would have only been covered by the Protection of Freedoms Act, which is intended to safeguard their civil liberties, while they were in the town centre (provided that it was itself compliant with the CoP which is, of course, voluntary).
We believe that the combination of a failure to address the rapid change in technology and unwillingness to bring the vast majority of surveillance cameras within the scope of the Code will ultimately erode public confidence in CCTV.
Our response to the consultation included a number of recommendations:
Expand relevant authorities to include transportation, health, shopping centres, government departments (which are oddly enough currently exempt from the government’s own Code of Practice), traffic management, residential social landlords and educational institutions including universities and colleges.
To maintain public confidence in CCTV, the BSCC should be directed to create and regularly amend as needed a list of notifiable technologies which relevant authorities should keep the public informed about.
Relevant authorities should be encouraged to (a) publish statements about the use of new technologies in line with the BSCC’s list of notifiable technologies and (b) establish a single point of contact with responsibility for answering public queries about the use of their CCTV images including any subsequent processing of the images using technologies from the notifiable list
Encourage relevant authorities to provide regular refresher training to system operators to update their knowledge on policies and procedures especially as they relate to civil rights and data protection.
That chapter 5 of the Code, which detailed the responsibilities of the Commissioner, be restored (it was deleted on the grounds that the commissioner’s role was defined in the legislation).
Strengthen paragraph 13 of the Code (Effect of the Code) to make it clear that failure to show due regard to the code could undermine the credibility of video evidence in support of fixed penalty notices.
That when bidding for government funding, relevant authorities be required to state whether they are recognised by the BSCC as being compliant with the CoP and, if not, why they are not.
That relevant authorities, whether they are the originators or consumers of CCTV products, be encouraged to develop comprehensive service level agreements when working together which include feedback on the disposition of CCTV products.
Although outside the scope of the consultation, because it would require amending the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, our final recommendation was to make compliance with the Code mandatory for relevant authorities.
Let us know what you think about the Code of Practice by emailing us at email@example.com.