I was in the gym yesterday, wondering what I could write in this guest blog, when I looked up from the treadmill and saw a news feature about trialling the use of body cameras in classrooms to record students’ bad behaviour. This got me thinking about how I might react if this happened in my children’s school.
The use of body worn video (BWV) appears to be spreading across all kinds of settings. The police, civil enforcement officers, and door staff at night clubs have used them for several years now. A couple of weeks ago there were media reports about BWV use by housing and welfare officers working with asylum seekers. In the NHS, clinical and security staff are using BWV – you may have seen the Commissioner’s blog on this.
Yet how can any organisation - whether it’s the school your child attends or the night club which has a duty of care towards its staff and customers make good decisions about the use of what is essentially a camera attached to a surveillance system?
The Surveillance Camera Code of Practice provides a clear set of guiding principles which support decision-making over the necessity of surveillance cameras to meet a specific purpose, and how best to deploy a camera system which can capture and process images with the appropriate safeguards. I wonder how many of those organisations deploying BWV have referred to the Code.
The Commissioner has developed tools to help anyone considering the use of surveillance cameras in a public place to approach their decision-making in a structured, rigorous and transparent manner. The Metropolitan Police Service and Greater Manchester Police recently received the Commissioner’s certification mark in respect of their use of BWV. Pioneers in demonstrating they comply with the Code.
Transparency over the use of surveillance cameras is not just a statutory requirement under the Data Protection Act 1998 which shines through in the Code. It is about demonstrating and upholding our right to respect for private and family life.
I suspect any parent of a child whose classroom behaviour and speech might be recorded using BWV would want to be satisfied that such interference is really necessary, and there are safeguards in place around the data. They might even be reassured by the completion of a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) and by knowing that the cameras and the images they collect were being operated in line with good practice and the relevant standards.
Consulting those who are likely to come under public surveillance is a key element of the Code. For any consultation to be meaningful, there must be a genuine open mind on what the outcome might be. It should also provide enough information for people to understand what is intended and how it might be achieved. That could involve publishing a PIA and committing to meet relevant standards. Then people can decide if they are able to support the case for those surveillance cameras.
Consultation over the national surveillance camera strategy for England and Wales, concluded in December 2016. As project manager for development of the strategy, I have been really impressed by some of the thoughtful responses that were submitted. Having listened carefully to those responses, Tony Porter has refined his strategy and expects to launch it in the coming weeks.
Once implementation of the strategy begins, I hope any organisation considering the use of BWV will look to the user-friendly advice, guidance and tools which are available to help ensure their use of surveillance cameras serves the public interest.
Now, I wonder what we will all learn from the outcome of that BWV pilot, and what it might mean for the future use of surveillance cameras.