Do you know who’s watching you? I’ve said in a previous blog that surveillance cameras are everywhere and they are – there’s no getting away from it. They help protect our communities but if they are used inappropriately they can also impinge on our privacy. When you walk past a camera in the street do you know who owns the camera and why it’s there?
The Data Protection Act says that people in public paces should usually be made aware when they are being monitored by a surveillance camera system – it’s a legal obligation. It’s about being transparent and it’s much more than having the appropriate signage where cameras are in use – although that it is very important. This is what Principle Three of the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice is all about.
One thing that Civil Liberty groups tell me time and again is that for the most part it’s extremely difficult to find out any information about Local Authority CCTV schemes. This results in them having to submit Freedom of Information requests for even the most basic information such as the number of cameras being used by an Authority. This is time consuming for them and the Authority in gathering the required information.
Publish information and be open
It doesn’t have to be like this. What if organisations published information about their surveillance camera schemes on their website – numbers of cameras, privacy impact assessments, policy documents and so on. Then anyone could easily find what they are looking for.
What if when new systems are installed organistations consulted the people being monitored telling them exactly why cameras are being used. I’m not saying this doesn’t happen as it clearly does – there’s a case study on my website showcasing how Boston Borough Council did just this when fitting their bin lorries with CCTV.
Equally, I was asked recently to comment on a Council who refused to say why their system was not working due to the sensitive nature of CCTV. If CCTV is used overtly in a public place then the authority should tell people what the problem is and explain what they are doing to fix it. Saying CCTV is sensitive is not acceptable – it’s about being open and I’ll be speaking to this Council about how they can do this.
So, with surveillance cameras now a part of our everyday lives it’s important that people know why they are being monitored and are able to access information about systems. At the moment there are some really good examples of good practice as well as some areas for improvement.
What more should organisations do to be open and transparent about how and why they are using surveillance cameras?