Surveillance camera code of practice comes into force

CCTV camera The code applies to the CCTV and automatic number plate recognition systems of public bodies

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A code of practice on the use of surveillance cameras by bodies such as local authorities and police forces has come into effect in England and Wales.

The Home Office introduced the code after concerns over the potential for the abuse or misuse of surveillance by the state in public places.

The code says the cameras must be used "in pursuit of a legitimate aim" and when it "meets a pressing need".

Campaign group Big Brother Watch said the code did not go far enough.

The code of practice also restricts access to and retention of data, and encourages private operators to apply the code as well as public bodies.

The code says: "Where used appropriately, these systems are valuable tools which contribute to public safety and security and in protecting both people and property.

"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."

Start Quote

Ultimately the regulator needs real powers to enforce the rules and the code should apply to every CCTV camera, irrespective of who is operating it”

End Quote Nick Pickles Director, Big Brother Watch

The code of practice has been introduced under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, which also established the post of surveillance camera commissioner.

The 12 point code of conduct says the use of a surveillance camera system must:

  1. always be for a specified purpose which is in pursuit of a legitimate aim and necessary to meet an identified pressing need
  2. take into account its effect on individuals and their privacy
  3. have as much transparency as possible, including a published contact point for access to information and complaints
  4. have clear responsibility and accountability for all surveillance activities including images and information collected, held and used
  5. have clear rules, policies and procedures in place and these must be communicated to all who need to comply with them
  6. have no more images and information stored than that which is strictly required
  7. restrict access to retained images and information with clear rules on who can gain access
  8. consider any approved operational, technical and competency standards relevant to a system and its purpose and work to meet and maintain those standards
  9. be subject to appropriate security measures to safeguard against unauthorised access and use
  10. have effective review and audit mechanisms to ensure legal requirements, policies and standards are complied with
  11. be used in the most effective way to support public safety and law enforcement with the aim of processing images and information of evidential value, when used in pursuit of a legitimate aim
  12. be accurate and kept up to date when any information is used to support a surveillance camera system which compares against a reference database for matching purposes

The role of the commissioner, Andrew Rennison, is to encourage compliance, review how the code is working and recommend any changes.

The code applies to CCTV and automatic number plate recognition systems.

Minister for Criminal Information Lord Taylor of Holbeach said CCTV and number plate recognition were "vital tools" but it was "crucial they focused on aiding the fight against crime and protecting the public".

The code and the commissioner's work "will better harness these technologies and help put an end to CCTV systems growing without proper oversight," he added.

'Surveillance state'

In 2010, West Midlands Police apologised after 200 so-called spy cameras were set up in largely Muslim areas of Birmingham.

The cameras, some of them hidden, were paid for with £3m of government funding intended for tackling terrorism.

Residents were angry about a lack of consultation and an independent report was highly critical. The police said none of the cameras had been switched on.

That scandal prompted the government to launch a consultation on the introduction of the code of practice and the commissioner.

Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said the the code was a step in the right direction but more needed to happen.

He said: "With only a small fraction of cameras covered and without any penalties for breaking the code there is much more that could be done to protect people's privacy from unjustified or excessive surveillance.

"Ultimately the regulator needs real powers to enforce the rules and the code should apply to every CCTV camera, irrespective of who is operating it.

Mr Pickles added: "We have already seen cases of cameras in school toilets, neighbours involving the police because of cameras on private property and concerns about new marketing technology tracking number plates, yet the code would not apply in any of these situations.

"As CCTV technology improves and issues like facial recognition analysis come to the fore it is essential that people are able to access meaningful redress where their privacy is infringed.

"The surveillance camera commissioner must be given the powers and the resources to take action, otherwise the public will rightly ask if the surveillance state continues to escape accountability."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    I aggree controls on the use of CCTV are long overdue there is a voice in my head that is saying, 'The cameras are there to protect us all from those who would do us harm and also for the authorities to protect their interests in reality if you are keeping out of trouble you have nothing to fear'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    30.whine99 "If you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to worry about."

    But if someone is going to commit a crime they’ll do it anyway and would CCTV deter them? I doubt it. What CCTV does is provide evidence if the pictures are clear enough. Personally, I'd like to crime to stop in the first place but I think people should be held to account for their misdemeanours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    If you are not acting illegally, then what is the issue?

    Without CCTV many attacks and robbery’s would remain unsolved and with fewer police officers on the beat, it's the only way many people will see justice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    The War on the Motorist will continue unabated, we can be sure of that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    How about we make it a law that all CCTVs become webcams so we can all look .. plus make the DVLA database public so we can identify dodgy drivers.
    And for all who say nothing to hide nothing to fear, please post you tax returns and bank balances on line.

    Spotted the difference between privacy and secrecy yet.??

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    I think there should be a rule that anything funny is instantly uploaded to youtube.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    To STOP the abuse of SPYCAMS they should all be decommissioned and COURT APPROVAL obtained for each and every SPYCAM.

    Data should only be released from any data base on a court order.

    Since the Police have gone down the road of Policing for Profit they should also be included in this restriction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    CCTV works in many ways! Yes it can catch criminals, yes it can show footage after an event, and sometimes it might deter crime, but in turn it can produce evidence that can counteract Police findings but then mysteriously go missing! No commissioner can oversee the actions of every cctv operator in the country or oversee the police who can decide what footage to preserve or discard!

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Talking of surveillance would like to thank the beeb for opening a wide range of issues for comment that reflect concerns of people in the UK.
    Long may it continue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    While walking across a petrol station forecourt with my 8 year son we were reversed into by a driver leaving the forecourt, no injury but the driver just sped off

    Concerned that my child could have been killed we got the petrol station to confirm they had recorded the incident on CCTV and witnesses too

    The police said as it was on private property we would have to sue the driver ourselves


  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    If CCTV is meant to prevent crime, why have crime levels been steadily rising since the implementation of CCTV.

    Other countries manage without such an Orwellian grip on its people.

    Crime is collateral.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    "I you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about", some line, that. I like that you all come on here like Stasi officials, unwittingly trotting out the same line as what was one of the most oppressive orginisations in the world.
    'Quick, boys! Down your gins! We must get to Trafalgar for the two minute hate!'

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    I feel safer walking down streets that have CCTV cameras, it might be a shallow thing but knowing someone is behind the camera means that I'm not alone should something go wrong.

    If I was walking home from work, and say collapsed, I'd be indebted to the CCTV operators if they called an ambulance, and CCTV operators have saved lives before now. Something the anti CCTV crowd forget.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Just carry on as before then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Voyeurism plus a code of pratice equals legalised voyeurism doesn't it?
    Lets hope our beloved leaders have nothing to hide, oh sorry, they probably all have! true there is a place for surveillance, & the corridors of power must NOT be excluded because that is where most major crimes are hatched!

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Viva Verdi
    Comment32 is an Editors' Pick

    "Apart from the many crimes CCTV has solved, there must be lots more crimes not committed because the perpetrators fear being caught on camera.

    How could an innocent person object to any of that?"

    You're right and we should have them installed in every room of everyone's house to stop domestic abuse and pedophilia...if you've nothing to hide, right?

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Pointless code if there's no penalties.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    What bothers me is who is actually watching these cameras ?

    Qualified analysts , or minimum wage workers who pry on innocent people for a kick ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    The state has flimsy codes of conduct to police its behaviour & officials escape normally with their punishment of big payoffs & pension pots & the public have criminal prosecutions & punishment, this is why so many do not trust the state.

    This code adds no protections to abuse of CCTV, it adds no prosecution for abuse, it is relatively just a new coat of whitewash.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    CCTV to aid pursuit of criminals and other wrong-doers is not a problem for anyone. But what if using face (or number plate) recognition you can be tracked everywhere you go so that a profile can be assembled on you (not by people but machines and kept in storage forever) and then used to target you (or your descendants) with information or dis-information. You are not free and the net is closing.


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