Is the Government about to get around to regulating the use and abuse of CCTV surveillance cameras and add on technologies, as we have been advocating for the last 10 years ?
The Register reports Home Office to grab for more CCTV power
Home Office to grab for more CCTV power
Plods not happy with law, ICO, or surveillance quality
By Mark Ballard
Published Wednesday 22nd November 2006 13:20 GMT
The police and Home Office are to press for regulatory powers that will insist that every one of the 4.2 million CCTV cameras in Britain is upgraded so it can be deputised to gather police evidence and provide a vehicle for emerging technologies that will automatically identify people and detect if they are doing anything suspicious.
The CCTV strategy for crime reduction, which is expected to be published in December after a joint review by the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers, is also expected to be critical of the way the law governing the use of CCTV has been managed by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).
Graeme Gerrard, joint-director of the review and deputy chief constable at Cheshire Constabulary, said: "We say there's a need for proper regulation of CCTV to protect civil rights and to see we are not wasting everyone's time and money."
Exactly. We have never said that CCTV surveilllance does not have its place, but if it is necessary, it should be done properly, and equally and fairly throughout the country.
His recommendations will include powers of inspection to determine if CCTV systems are good enough for their recordings to be commandeered for use as police evidence. Public and private operators would be obliged to upgrade their systems if the police thought they were not good enough.
"CCTV, in terms of assisting the police, has been very important. It's now one of the first things we check in most forms of criminality," Gerrard said, but added: "From a police perspective we have been concerned for some time with the quality of the CCTV [images] presented to us."
That may be true in a checklist, box ticking, bureaucratic form filling sort of way, but there is now so much potential CCTV footage available, that, unless a serious crime , involving violence etc. is being investigated, CCTV imageas are not routinely viewed by the Police, simply for reasons of cost and manpower resources.
"The reason is that CCTV systems are not regulated and inspected. They should be fit for purpose to comply with the Data Protection Act. But that's not being regulated at the moment, which is wasting police time and public money.
It is interesting to see the Police using the Data Protection Act principles to bolster their case.
Why do they not also apply this to the millions of insecure computer systems in the UK, which also fail the "fit for purpose" test with respect to security and privacy ?
"The Information Commissioner has responsibility but doesn't do it. We are certainly recommending someone does it."
The ICO has repeatedly asked the Department of Constitutional Affairs (DCA) for powers of inspection so it can check that people's CCTV systems are being used properly - not just so that they are fit for the purpose of crime detection, but also that they are not intruding on people's privacy. But the DCA had refused, The Register has learned.
Even if the ICO was given the power to inspect people's CCTV installations, it could not afford to do the work. Neither is the government willing to foot the bill of upgrading the many public CCTV networks using old technology.
Moreover, public funding would not fund private CCTV operators, which Gerrard said are more often found by the police to be inadequate when they turn to them for evidence.
Even poor quality CCTV images, which cannot be used for identification of either criminals or potential witnesses, can give some basic information e.g. the number of people actually involved in an incident, and it s time and date.
Most CCTV "evidence" is never cross examined in court, in the the way that, for example, in the USA, the O.J. Simpson case videos of the Police forensic scene of crime record videos, were literally analysed frame by frame.
The reason for this, is that most video systems, even digital ones do not have a tamperproof "chain of evidence" facilities e.g. encryption, cryptographic digital timestamps etc.
So the CCTV review will suggest some sort of self-funding regime. This could mean that CCTV operators might have to pay a higher registration fee than the yearly £35 they pay to the ICO. Fines could also be charged to those who fail their inspections.
It is astonishing that you need to pay an annual Licence Fee of £135.50 (colour) or £44 (black and white), for your Televison set, but you do not have to pay anything at all, for an unlimited number of CCTV systems and monitors.
The name and address of every TV set owner is available on a centralised national database, but not that of every CCTV surveillance camera system operator.
Small scale CCTV systems, which cannot track people via pan, tilt, zoom etc. are exempt from having to be registered under the Data Protection Act, according to the Information Commissioner's Office (who are the only people who can enforce this), due to their interpretation of the non-CCTV related legal precedent of Durant versus the Financial Services Authority.
The review is also expected to call for a public debate on CCTV, which should please the ICO after it said earlier this month that British society was being fundamentally changed by the rapid growth of surveillance and that we should pause for thought before it's too late.
There will not be much of a public debate, judging by our last ten years of campaigning - the British public seems to be more attracted to voyeuristic "fly on the wall" and intrusive psychological group therapy sessions, pandering to naked voyeurism, like the "Big Brother" TV programme, than worrying about their privacy from CCTV surveillance.
One gaping hole in Gerrard's argument, however, is that he was unable to say just how much of Britain's CCTV network was useless for police purposes, or how much it would cost to upgrade it. Neither was the CCTV User Group, which represents operators
We will see if we can contribute to this forthcoming Home Office and ACPO review, since theirs is not the only perspective on these issues.
We do not want them to gloss over the issues with new technologies such as,
- What about the whole area of Automatic Number Plate Recognition systems which also use CCTV ?
- Should there be a mandatory Data Retention period of say, 30 days, throughout the country, for CCTV images ?
- If so, then who pays for the extra video tapes or disk storage capacity ?
- Who pays for the necessary independent human or technical procedures (akin to the requirement for a Police Officer, who is not directly involved in a Police interview, to collect and keep a sealed copy of any audio or video recording of such a Police interview or interrogation of a suspect) and systems to provide a "tamperproof unbroken chain of evidence" ?
- Under what circumstances should CCTV surveillance footage ever be passed on to other UK Law Enforcement or Intelligence Agencies ?
- What about Foreign Police and Intelligence Agencies ?
- What about releasing footage or stills to the tv broadcast media, still images to the newspapers ?
- What about releasing footage or stills to the Internet ?
- What about the current scandal of releasing CCTV footage or stills to the media of innocent potential witnesses rather than of actualcriminal suspects ?
- Should , for example, Transport for London have been prosecuted and fined, for the failures of their public CCTV systems, in the the Tavistock Square bus bomb on July 7th 2005, and the lack of any CCTV footage from the platform or train cameras, which might have shed light on the Police shooting and killing of the innocent Brazlian electrician Jean Charles de Menzes, on July 22nd 2005 at Stockwell Tube station ?
There are so many CCTV systems, that the creation of an independent watchdog agency, with the remit and resources to actually inspect millions of CCTV systems, to revoke operator licences and to prosecute incompetent or criminal CCTV operators, and, especially, to investigate individual complaints from the public, appears to be justified,.
This watchdog agency should really operate hand in hand with Local Council planning departments, who have the geographic "local knowledge", but they should ensure a "level playing field" of minimum standards for CCTV consultation with neighbours, day to day operating procedures and systems for redressing complaints from the public. These should be the same, throughout the United Kingdom, rather than the hodge podge "post code lottery" which the current voluntary schemes and voluntary Codes of Practice, have produced.
Such a CCTV surveillance Privacy and Security Authority, should be empowered, by means of Primary Legislation, to also regulate and enforce minimum standards for Private sector and Domestic CCTV surveillance systems, as well as Public ones.
This would be preferable to further lumbering the Surveillance Commissioner, the Information Commissioner or the Security Industry Authority etc. who have plenty to do already.and who would also have conflicts of interest, which would make it difficult or impossible for them to properly serve the privacy and security interests of the public.