Section 35(1)(a) of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (PoFA) requires that I prepare a report about the exercise of my functions, give a copy to the Secretary of State and publish the report. Section 35(2) PoFA requires the Secretary of State to lay a copy of my report before Parliament.
I was delighted that my Annual Report was presented to Parliament on Monday 8th January 2018.
In the context of public space surveillance camera systems my report highlights what I consider to be key issues which resonate with the public and should be considered by Government.
The challenges to civil liberties arising from new and emerging surveillance camera technologies are significant. Facial recognition, automatic number plate recognition and intrusive video analytics are surveillance camera capabilities which are increasingly present across society. It is acknowledged that such systems may bring operational benefits to those who are charged with the responsibility to keep us safe. Arguably such systems may bring added benefits to a range of functions in society, for instance an added dimension to customer convenience in the private sector. However their use does raise challenges when seeking to balance the necessity of security and the duty to respect privacy.
To what extent are we happy for these systems to proliferate in public spaces at the behest of agents of the state and for our private information to be linked from data base to data base without transparency or indeed consent as to its use? Informing the public is key in my view. I will be delivering a programme of public debate and engagement throughout 2018 as part of my National Surveillance Camera Strategy to allow the public to have their say. These issues are too important for the public not to have a voice in their development and use.
My report additionally highlights the following amongst its contents:
a) Cyber security is a significant consideration within the security agenda .The risk potential for intrusion on citizens both by lawful operators of surveillance camera systems and those individual or State actors who seek to ‘hack’ in to systems continues to be a concern.
b) My ability to effectively regulate an improvement in the operation of surveillance camera systems in public is hampered by the restricted range of organisations that must comply with the Home Secretary’s Surveillance Camera Code of Practice (SC Code).
c) The credibility of the Secretary of State’s Code depends upon relevant and up to date primary and secondary legislation to underpin its provisions and scope. It also requires a clear regulatory mandate as provided at section 34(2) of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 not being confused with or by other regulatory interests.
d) Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) one of the largest non military databases in the UK, should be placed on a statutory footing by the Government. It has a national infrastructure of approximately 9,000 cameras that captures between 25 to 40 million pieces of data (citizens’ number plates) per day and up to 20 to 30 billion records are held.
e) The National Surveillance Camera Strategy for England and Wales which was published in March 2017 and is beginning to deliver tangible benefits.This is a three-year strategy and is led by industry and subject matter leaders, drawn from across the private and public sectors. The Strategy provides a framework that challenges and seeks to raise standards – and create new ones where they are required – for the whole spectrum of the surveillance camera community; from manufacturers, installers, integrators and end users to understand and strive to improve standards.
I am of course interested in learning of any feedback arising from the content of my report and I commend it to you to read.