https://videosurveillance.blog.gov.uk/2017/05/16/pressing-need/

Pressing need

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 local authority 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.

Public confidence

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.

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?

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1 comment

  1. Gareth Johnson

    Dear Tony,
    Thank you for posting this as it is timely with regards to discussions we are having with our enforcement contractor over the use of BWV. We have used these 'always on' since 2015 and the results have indicated a reduction in violent incidents and excellent evidence that has helped the Police prosecute members of the public who have attacked Civil Enforcement Officers. The CEOs appreciate it and welcome it as a significant piece of equipment to improve their safety. I have read several times the Guidance and the comment that 'always on' should only be used on exceptions with suitable justification. The justification is that CEOs are often not given any warning of an attack and it only occasionally correlates with the issuing of a Penalty Charge Notice. Moreover, the recent and extensive Cambridge University led study of BMV by the Police concluded that there was evidence that the act of turning on a camera exacerbated a situation rather than calming it. Our CEOs are provided through a contract and as the Contract Manager I have a duty of care under HS legislation to the contractor. This is the one reason we asked for 'always on' BMV at the start;to ensure the full protection of the officers at all times when working . We have very strict rules on data collection and viewing and the recordings are not used for the issuing of any PCNs. Nor legally could they be as you state as the TMA stipulates 'approved devices' and the Deregulation Bill considerably limited the application of these. I cannot comment on their use for environmental policing but I can imagine for some Authorities struggling to deal with real problems of dog faeces etc, the option to use a camera to provide irrefutable evidence must be obviously tempting.

    I remain of the view that a small BWV with limited field of vision with very strict processes on data handling is an invaluable tool to protect CEOs and the Police from attacks. Surveillance in the UK is now part of life and the recent Investigatory Powers Act provides wide reaching powers on viewing our web/email interactions. Dashcams are also commonplace and I'm sure we are not far away from personal always on cameras for individuals. The irony then is that those organisations most in need of the protection that BWV offers are those most at risk of having its benefits watered down. Local Authorities and the Police (plus I would suggest Health Workers) should have the option of always on BWV providing they can demonstrate exemplary data storage and public PIAs to justify this.

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