Bradford Council's public CCTV surveillance cameras schemes appear to have be used increasingly for directed surveillance by the Police and by Customs & Excise, according to this Freedom of Information Act request based report in the local newspaper, the Bradford Telegraph & Argus
Directed Surveillance requires authorisation under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, and is used for police surveillaance, familiar from TV and film as a "stakeout", or following suspects on foot or in a vehicle, with or without tracking devices etc.
However, RIPA only authorises the a list of public bodies such as the Police or Customs & Excise to snoop on people being investigated for a "serious" crime. defined as one which would be likley to attract at least a 3 year prison sentence for a first time offender, if convicted.
It does not authorise Local Authorities to snoop on people in this way.
It might be different if the CCTV surveillance camera scheme was actually run or operated by the Police in cooperation with the Local Authority, but this is rarely the case.
It is important to note that this CCTV surveillance is not by the Local Authority in respect of any of its statutory functions e.g. preventing fly tipping, etc., or health or trading standards offences, for which it might have a legitimate Data Purpose such as
"Crime prevention and detection and the apprehension and prosecution of offender"
registered under the Data Protection Act 1998, and supervised by the Information Commissioner Richard Thomas.
It is not proportionate for a Local Council to be involved directly in surveillance involving serious crime investigations.
As the Bradford councillor states in the article below, the Police and Customs & Excise have their own camera surveillance equipment for such "directed surveillance".
It also raises the question of if the Local Council run CCTV cameras are being concentrated on the "directed surveillance" targets, then they are not doing their proper job of "protecting" the rest of their field of view, as they were designed and paid for to do.
The Surveillance Commissioner, Sir Andrew Leggatt needs to investigate if, how and by whom, this "directed surveillance" was "authorised", and what happens to the CCTV data on innocent people, how long it is retained for etc. both in Bradford, and in other Local Councils.
Read the Braford Telegraph & Argus article:
Bradford Telegraph & Argus Tuesday 8th March 2005
'Big Brother' jibe over CCTV spies
by Jason Teasdale
Bradford Council has been branded a "Big Brother" authority for allowing more and more of its CCTV cameras to be used in so-called "covert" police and customs investigations.
Figures obtained by the Telegraph & Argus under the Freedom of Information Act show Council officers approved more secret surveillance operations in the last year than they did in the previous four years combined.
Just 13 incidents of undercover filming were approved between 2000 and 2004, but there were 17 last year.
Fifteen requests came from the police and two from Customs and Excise. The former chairman of Bradford Council's community safety sub-committee, which oversaw the network's installation in 1990, is outraged and has called for discussion on the issue.
Councillor John Ruding (Lab, Tong) said the system was never meant to be used in this way: "We are beginning to be `Big Brother' to the community of this district and we were never elected to be that," he said. "We are not MI5 or the police; they have cameras of their own."
Coun Ruding said it was unacceptable that an officer can make covert use of the Council's CCTV without any elected member being involved.
"I will discuss the issue as soon as possible with the chairman of the safer and stronger communities improvement committee with a view to getting a cross-party view on this," he said.
"If we undertake CCTV operations on the community, the council tax payers are not only likely to be the victims of it, they are also paying for it and they have the right to expect a proper procedure."
Bradford Council said all requests from agencies like the police are legal and Phil Holmes, the authority's CCTV manager, claimed the filming was not truly covert because all Council cameras are publicly sign-posted.
He referred to the technique as "directed surveillance" - cameras which are already in place and are used to temporarily target a premises or an individual. He said: "We are not `Big Brother'. Our views are that we provide a service and we protect the community; we are not spying on people."
Detective Inspector John Armitage, based in Bradford South, said Government legislation and human rights laws are borne in mind whenever asking for the Council's help.
"It would seem a nonsense to put our own systems there when the Council already has its own facilities up and running," he said. "We have a finite amount and we would have to bring them over, site, maintain and monitor them."
Commenting on the rise in requests, he said: "CCTV is something that has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years and officers' knowledge of what is available to use has also increased."