As we discussed with our recent CCTV delegates the NEW Surveillance Camera Code of Practice was published on the 4th June. Th NEW code highlights how public authorities and the police within the UK will have to prove that a system’s technical capabilities are “proportionate” to their use.
“surveillance by consent” — is the principle of the code, encouraging the idea that the public can have confidence in surveillance’s role in their protection rather than thinking it is there to spy on them.
The Surveillance Camera Code of Practice was drafted by the UK’s first surveillance camera commissioner, Andrew Rennison, who was appointed last year. At IFSEC International in May, Rennison explained that the code of practice would be self-regulated, as “anyone who is under this code are people of integrity”.
The code was required as a part of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, by which Rennison’s position was also created. It will now have to be approved by Parliament.
Announcing the publication of the surveillance code, minister for criminal information Lord Taylor of Holbeach said:
CCTV and ANPR are crucial tools for cutting crime and protecting the public, but for too long we have seen these systems grow without proper oversight.
Through this code – and with an independent commissioner – there will be a framework in place for the first time that helps police and local authorities in the fight against crime and anti-social behaviour, while reassuring the public that cameras in public places are used proportionately and effectively.
Breaching the code
The 23-page draft of the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice sets out the purpose and effect of the code, as well as guiding principles for system operators and advice on the use or processing of images recorded on public surveillance.
Section 1 explains the purpose of the code:
The purpose of the code will be to ensure that individuals and wider communities have confidence that surveillance cameras are deployed to protect and support them, rather than spy on them. The government considers that wherever overt surveillance in public places is in pursuit of a legitimate aim and meets a pressing need, any such surveillance should be characterised as surveillance by consent, and such consent on the part of the community must be informed consent and not assumed by a system operator.
The code also explains that a breach of the code by a public body will not lead to criminal or civil proceedings against them, however the code is admissible in court, meaning that a court may take into account any failure by the relevant authority to have proper regard to the code.
Potentially, this could mean that video surveillance used as evidence could be discredited if it was obtained in a manner deemed to have breached the code of practice.
Privacy and human rights issues
Rennison caused a stir shortly after his appointment when he revealed that he worried that HD surveillance and facial recognition technology risked breaching human rights.
The code seeks to address this, reading:
In general, any increase in the capability of surveillance camera system technology also has the potential to increase the likelihood of intrusion into an individual’s privacy. The Human Rights Act 1998 gives effect in UK law to the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.
The code continues that amongst the qualified rights is a person’s right to respect for his or her private and family life, and that any use of video surveillance must be consistent with a legitimate aim and a pressing need. This aim will have to be documented, and the technical design solution will also have to be proportionate rather than “driven by the availability of funding or technological innovation”.
In other words, you cannot just install the latest and most expensive video surveillance solution with the best resolution and all of the latest video analytics attached to it unless you can prove that those features are actually necessary.
This could prove a big worry to surveillance manufacturers that distribute their systems to public authorities, as there may be pushback from authorities who will be seeking systems that are “proportionate” to their needs, rather than simply the latest, cutting-edge technology.
In real terms then, this could mean that if a camera comes with in-built motion detection, but a local authority could not prove that it required said motion detection, it would have to deactivate it or seek a camera without it.
The Code of Practice was written following a consultation period that received 134 responses from authorities including the British Transport Police and the Serious Organised Crime Agency. The Government is committed to bringing the code into practice some time this summer.