CCTV use in Scotland 'may breach privacy laws'

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionCCTV systems across Scotland could violate privacy laws finds an internal review by Police Scotland

An internal police review has found the operation of Scotland's CCTV systems risks violating privacy laws.

A new investigative journalism website, The Ferret, uncovered the results of the review.

The review found that much of the camera network used to aid law enforcement is obsolete, relying on technology such as VHS tape to record images.

It recommended a £10m investment in digital equipment.

As part of its review, Police Scotland surveyed 31 of Scotland's 32 local authorities. It found that 12 did not have an internal audit mechanism "to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Data Protection Act".

The police review proposed a revamped and centrally-coordinated network with high definition cameras linked to a new police computer system known as i6.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the proposal "poses a number of questions about privacy".

The Scottish government said its national strategy for public space CCTV "facilitates a more strategic approach to CCTV development and management for local partners".

Camera network

CCTV cameras for law enforcement in Scotland were first introduced in Airdrie in 1991.

There are now about 3,000 cameras in use. But 80% of them rely on analogue technology which is out of date, with spare parts increasingly difficult to obtain.

The current and capital expenditure on the cameras is reported to total nearly £30m each year, split between local authorities and the police.

The gathering, control, storing and use of video images is covered by the 1998 Data Protection Act.

The UK Information Commissioner's Office has said the misuse of CCTV can cause "intrusion into the lives of ordinary people as they go about their day to day business".

The police review said: "There have been significant instances where CCTV managers have found themselves in crisis with little continued revenue funding in place to pay for staff, equipment, maintenance etc."

The plan to tackle the situation with a national network has drawn fire from civil liberties campaigners.

Pol Clementsmith from the Open Rights Group said: "Clear lines must be drawn in the digital sand otherwise we are all headed towards a situation where we're sleepwalking into a surveillance state.

"This document lays bare some glaring mistakes in an ongoing catalogue of errors whereby Police Scotland and a number of local authorities are potentially breaching data protection laws on a daily basis.

"The majority of CCTV in Scotland is being used to monitor, record and store our every move - yet our police force doesn't appear to know if what they are doing is legal or illegal."

Scottish Parliament

Mr Rennie said he would raise the concerns highlighted by the report in the Scottish Parliament.

He said: "This reports paints a picture of a CCTV monitoring system that is shambolic, ramshackle and in some areas may not even be compliant with basic privacy laws."

Mr Rennie added: "The system needs an urgent overhaul but I am far from convinced that the proposed national network is the answer as it poses a number of questions about privacy - especially as it might be used in concert with new unregulated, facial recognition technology."

Assistant Chief Constable Ruaraidh Nicolson said the report was an internal document written after the creation of Police Scotland. It was shared with local police commanders, the Scottish government and a national CCTV steering group.

He said: "The purpose of the review was to identify possible improvements and ensure more effective and efficient ways to liaise with and provide information to partner agencies timeously.

"It also identified the age of the current equipment and the advances that have been made in technology means that an injection of capital funding will be required to update the ageing systems. Since its completion there has been ongoing dialogue."

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "The detail contained in the Public Space CCTV Review is a matter for Police Scotland who carried out the review.

"We should not lose sight of the real benefits of CCTV for community safety including the detection of crime and helping to locate missing people.

"We do recognise, however, the importance of appropriate oversight of CCTV use in Scotland and we are currently considering whether current arrangements are sufficiently robust."

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites