CCTV is everywhere in the UK – up to 6 million CCTV cameras according to a British Security Industry Association report in 2013. It’s often said we are the most watched nation on Earth although a survey by Synectics in 2014 showed 86% of people support the use of CCTV.
So, it is supported but at the same time people expect some basic rights to privacy as enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
Support can dwindle quickly if people think they are being spied on rather than protected. There was an article in the press a few weeks ago about Westminster University. They’ve decided to install CCTV in prayer rooms to make sure people feel secure and not vulnerable. However, prayer rooms are private, sensitive places and parts of the student body feel like they are being spied on, not protected – it doesn’t appear that consultation has taken place before installation and that’s lead to distrust and lack of understanding around why the cameras have been installed.
Privacy by design
Principle 2 of the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice talks about considering the impacts on an individual’s right to privacy. In this area there is good work going on. Many of the control rooms I’ve visited have installed privacy by design into their systems. That means that if a camera pans past and area where you might expect privacy – across your garden, past windows of a house – the images are pixalted or blacked out so nothing can be seen.
I’m seeing police forces starting to move towards publish privacy impact assessments for their Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) systems and they’re doing it for Body Worn Video (BWV) and Drones too.
What’s happening at Westminster University probably could have been avoided if a privacy impact assessment had been carried out. They help you identify which cameras may impact on privacy – then measures can be taken to limit that impact. In Westminster University’s case it may have pointed towards consultation with the students or a communication to explain why the cameras are there.
As we see technology advance (quickly) – ANPR, BWV, drones and facial recognition – it presents us with new and exciting opportunities to keep us safe, keep our traffic moving and deter crime. As it advances does the potential for impacting on privacy increase too? If it does are privacy impact assessments enough to reassure people they are not being spied on but protected.
If surveillance cameras are now part of everyday life what can we do to protect our privacy?