Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Queen's Speech: CCTV in the crosshairs

CCTV was in the crosshairs today as the Queen revealed the Government's legislative programme.

One of the 22 Bills announced today is the Freedom (Great Repeal) Bill which among other things calls for the "further regulation of CCTV".

The Number 10 website gives some details about the Bill here including these points:
  • The main benefits of the Bill would include: "Protecting privacy by introducing new legislation to regulate the use of CCTV."
  • The main elements of the Bill include: "Further regulation of CCTV."
  • And existing legislation on CCTV is: "Data Protection Act 1998 and Regulation of Investigation Act 2000 (sic)". (Should be Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, but never mind!).
Follow the link to a copy of a speech by the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, and you learn more about the Government's intentions in this area (forgive the wordiness of the summation but I think a little context is important here):
  • Early in the speech, he refers to hard-won civil liberties which need protecting. "This government will end the culture of spying on its citizens. It is outrageous that decent, lawabiding people are regularly treated as if they have got something to hide. It has to stop. So, there will be no ID card scheme, no national identity register, a halt to second generation biometric passports. We will not hold your internet and email records when there is no reason to do so. CCTV will be properly regulated, as will the DNA storage database..."(It mystifies me why CCTV is lumped with DNA but that's a topic for another post).
  • According to Nick Clegg, CCTV quashes dissent and limits freedom. "Our democracy has suffered at the hands of encroaching centralisation and secrecy for decades. Take citizens’ rights: eroded by the quiet proliferation of laws that increase surveillance, quash dissent, limit freedom." (I would take the opposite view and say that CCTV helps protect the freedoms of the vulnerable and the law-abiding citizens by helping to identify criminals who make some people's lives unbearable).
Of course to find out the true intent of the Freedom Bill, one has to go to the LibDem website where you can find the original document. Since this is Nick Clegg's baby, and he has the support of the Prime Minister, we can assume that this will go into the Government's Bill largely intact.

The Freedom Bill says in part 2, Chapter 4 "Regulation of CCTV": "(1) A Royal Commission is to be established to make urgent recommendations on the use and regulation of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) and the impact of CCTV on privacy."

This is elaborated on in the explanatory notes:
"Britain is the most watched society in the world. We have less than one per cent of the world’s population but a fifth of the earth’s CCTV cameras. In the Big Brother state that Labour has created, Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) is all pervasive. There are over four million CCTV cameras in Britain – one for every fourteen people and you can be captured on camera over three hundred times every day. In the 1990s, the Home Office spent 78 per cent of its crime prevention budget on installing CCTV and an estimated £500 million of public money was invested in the CCTV infrastructure in the last decade.

"CCTV is not the panacea for crime many would have us believe. Outside of CCTV being used to catch speeding drivers; in car parks and to deter other property crime, there is little hard evidence to demonstrate that CCTV works to prevent crime or to bring offenders to justice. A Home Office study concluded that “the CCTV schemes that have been assessed had little overall effect on crime levels.” And a lot of CCTV evidence is unusable in court. Yet CCTV cameras are increasingly prevalent across the country and the technology is becoming more advanced all the time. More and more cameras, for example, are now incorporating automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) software. It is staggering; therefore, that CCTV is essentially unregulated.

"The Liberal Democrats believe that before we sleepwalk any further into a surveillance society in which our every move is recorded, the use of CCTV should be publicly debated with a review to its full regulation. A recent report by the House of Lords concluded that the UK “leads the world” in the use of CCTV but despite this, there were “few restrictions” and no clear legal limit to their use. Increased use of ANPR has only heightened these concerns. Now is the time to act. The Liberal Democrats believe that a Royal Commission should be established to make urgent recommendations on the use and regulation of CCTV in a bid to protect privacy. Many local authorities, such as Cambridge City Council, have already done sterling work in producing codes of practice governing the use of CCTV. This would seem as good a place as any for the Royal Commission to start their investigation and to consider giving such codes statutory force."

Regulation of CCTV is on its way. This government has the votes and the will to do it, so the industry should begin lobbying now for a form of regulation that will work, rather than something that's designed to hobble owners and operators of CCTV systems who, at the end of the day, are simply trying to protect their customers, staff or property or, in the case of publicly owned systems, help the police to protect the public.

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.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Public support for CCTV is not waning

In spite of what the naysayers may say, public support for CCTV is not in doubt, as this three minute report from ITV shows.

ITV Central Tonight: CCTV Crime Tool