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Managing the National Surveillance Camera Strategy

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Hey there, it’s Alastair Thomas here. Once of the Home Office, which I left in December 2015. Tony Porter has hired me to project manage the development of the new National Surveillance Camera Strategy. Tony also invited me to write a guest blog about progress thus far.

There is so much going on in the world at the moment, I sometimes wonder whether anybody is actually bothered about the presence of surveillance cameras in our busy lives. Perhaps the public here in England Wales, allegedly the most CCTV rich country in the world, have become immune to any concerns about invasion of privacy. After all, if it isn’t a CCTV camera monitoring my actions, somebody else will be recording them on a mobile device and posting a clip on social media.

Yet I turned on the news this morning, and was reminded that people remain very aware of any potential invasion of their privacy. The story was Amazon’s partnership with government to test fly drones that deliver parcels to your doorstep in thirty minutes. How convenient would that be!? Technology making our lives easier. Just put on the kettle, have a cup of tea and gratification arrives by the time you’ve drunk it. Yet alongside safety, the vox pop also revealed very real concerns about drone surveillance and invasion of privacy.

My view is that whenever an organisation which is using CCTV – or any other surveillance camera platform – follows the surveillance camera code of practice the public will be reassured over the necessity and proportionality of that surveillance. My job as National Strategy Development Manager is to make sure there is a published strategy document in December 2016 which sets out the actions that make a reality of Tony’s ambition that the code of practice does reassure the public surveillance cameras in public places are there to protect and look after them – rather than look at them.

Thankfully, this is not something I have to do all by myself. Tony’s team are working hard on a strategy document and plans for wider stakeholder engagement and consultation. Tony’s blog on 24 March introduced the eight experts who are leading work strands. We have now added two further strands into the strategy. One to bring greater awareness and adoption of the code of practice through the work of other regulators and inspectorates. And one to promote good practice and greater transparency in surveillance around critical national infrastructure.

So now I am working with ten strand lead experts. Each of them is drawing up a draft delivery plan for the period 2017 to 2020. I want these plans to be ambitious yet realistic. They must also be complementary; pulling in the same direction and with no great gaps or overlaps. For example, standards, certification against those standards, raising awareness, and training are themes which will run through the entire strategy. My job is to make sure there is clear ownership of the work under Tony’s direction and no duplication of effort within the available resources.

In a month’s time, I expect to have a draft strategy document which reflects the views of all the strand leads and their thinking on action that can be delivered by 2020. We then plan to start wider consultation in October.

So maybe when drone deliveries become a reality the public will simply look to the surveillance camera code of practice and the Surveillance Camera Commissioner as the source of reassurance that there is no unnecessary interference with their privacy. There’s still plenty of work to be done to make sure that is the case. Watch this space for further updates...

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