Principle one of the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice talks about surveillance cameras being used for a legitimate aim to meet a pressing need. That means you need to have a very good reason put up cameras that monitor public space because they have the potential to impinge on people’s privacy.
You may have seen new stories about Waltham Forest enforcement officers using body worn video cameras (BWV) to catch people littering, fly-posting, and so on. Now, I’m almost certain that when the officers were issued with these devices their intended purpose was for personal protection in the face of threats of verbal or physical abuse. So, it’s concerning if they’re being used to catch people committing offences rather than (or as well as) protecting staff.
Civil liberty groups say it could undermine the public’s confidence, and I think they are right. If the public feel that they are being looked at, rather than looked after, this could be an issue. We have to ask: are Local Authorities using BWV to raise revenue in a similar way to using CCTV for parking fines (which the Government have legislated to outlaw)?
This reminds me of a similar situation with a different outcome in South Essex. BWV was introduced for traffic enforcement officers who’d been the subject of abuse, carefully following the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice. This means they carried out privacy impact assessments to make sure BWV didn’t intrude on an individual’s privacy, and that the devices were only switched on when there were threats of abuse – their intended purpose.
If the news reports about Waltham Forest are to be believed, then it suggests that, for whatever reason, there doesn’t seem to have been the same oversight as I saw in South Essex and there’s a question to whether they are complying with the Code – something they are required to do as a Local Authority. Perhaps the press attention will make them reconsider how this equipment is used, and what it was originally issued for. It may help them consider how to meet this need using methods other than surveillance cameras.
So, if using BWV to help deter acts of violence or verbal abuse is justified, do you think using it to gather evidence of littering is? Or is that a step too far?