Tony Porter calls on the government to implement new safeguards to regulate surveillance technology

Updated: May 1, 2018


Surveillance camera commissioner warns government of the need for data protection to avoid "nightmare scenario".


Surveillance Camera Commissioner Tony Porter has called on politicians to implement new rules to ensure that surveillance technologies are not abused. 

In an address to the ANPR Conference, Porter said there is a growing appetite for the "use of increasingly intrusive technologies integrated with surveillance camera systems in society".

But he asserted that he has been lobbying government ministers, council members, law enforcement officials and privacy advocates to explore ways these systems can be better regulated.

"The public interest which demands clear legislation, transparency in governance and approach and a coherent and effective regulatory framework in which they can have confidence," he said.

Just over a year ago, Porter launched the National Surveillance Camera Strategy, which outlined ways in which the government and organisations should use surveillance technology.

"I engaged with a broad spectrum of stakeholders including police, public and privacy campaigners to better understand the divergence of opinion around its use," he said.

The Commissioner revealed that he has come across many people who are concerned about the lack of regulations that ensure this technology is used responsibly.

His belief is that the government should be able to use this technology, but safeguards are needed to prevent abuses. "We're capable of constructing safeguards that are good enough for the benefits to outweigh the disadvantages," he said.

Although Porter said there are clear benefits of surveillance cameras for governments, he highlighted China as a country that is using surveillance technologies in increasingly corrupt and sinister ways.

He said there is currently a "nightmare scenario" in China where a "totalitarian state continues its intrusive evolution through technology". Porter believes that the Chinese Government is blatantly ignoring "the will of the people or mechanisms to keep things in check".

Last month, Porter wrote to Chief Constable Sarah Thornton - chair of the National Police Chief's Council - to bring up concerns about the use of surveillance cameras by officers. He said the UK must resist China-like situations.

He said he brought up "concerns regarding discussions in police circles about bringing together public space video surveillance camera systems and integrating them for police use".

Porter added: "I'm entrusted to ensure that surveillance camera systems are used to support and protect communities - not spy on them.

"My primary focus is the overt use of surveillance cameras in public places by relevant authorities as defined in the legislation, in England and Wales."

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