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.
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?