Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Registration: a first step in the regulation of CCTV

Regulation of CCTV is in the public gaze once again, with the Government set to regulate CCTV as part of their Freedom (Great Repeal) Bill (more on that later).

Surely one of the key planks of regulation has to be registration of CCTV systems and cameras nationally. In the same way that the Security Industry Authority (SIA) requires all personnel in licensable sectors to be registered, so they can monitor and control them, so would cameras and monitoring systems require registration in order to be controlled.

Some questions that have to be asked when proposing a national registration scheme are, Who would be responsible for collating that information and to what use would that information be put?
I think a reasonable purpose in gathering that information is to assist the police in identifying the location of cameras that could be potentially useful in investigating crime.
What if you required each police force to map the cameras in their area and required the owners of CCTV systems within that area to register their cameras with the police, on pain of a fine per unregistered camera? (Fines would not be automatic but only imposed after giving organisations a warning to comply).
To avoid it becoming a database nightmare for anyone to manage, you could create an online tool which enables organisations to register themselves and then declare the locations and retention periods of each of their cameras. It would take an organisation with a small number of cameras very little time to complete the task (30-45 minutes at most) and then all they would have to do is re-confirm the information on a regular basis (12 monthly?).
Police would then make quarterly returns to the CCTV regulator and/or the Information Commissioner and, voilĂ , you have a highly accurate camera count and map of the cameras (both public and privately owned) in the country.
In addition, the Regulator would then have a comprehensive database of CCTV owners to whom could be passed information on codes of practice, image quality, data protection, and so on.

Regulation is not a panacea for the industry: it won't make people spend more money to replace shoddy CCTV systems. It won't clean the dirty lenses on ancient cameras, it won't adjust the back focus nor improve the lighting. It's up to the owners of CCTV systems to do that, and the only thing that will get them to pay attention is greater education about the importance of installing and maintaining systems that are fit for purpose.

But one thing that regulation would do is enable the police and government to get that information out to CCTV system owners in a more efficient manner, ensuring that everyone with a system received regular updates on legislation, codes of practice and system management.

And the other thing that regulation would do is answer this perennial question of how many cameras we have in the UK and where they are located. If we had that, it would be an invaluable tool for investigators and put the UK firmly in the lead again in the use and management of CCTV systems.

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