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Relevant Authorities – If you are operating Surveillance Camera Systems in public in England and Wales. Are you assured as to your legal responsibilities?

As an operator of a surveillance camera system you are faced with a framework of legal and regulatory requirements and industry standards, some of which place statutory responsibilities upon you in connection with the use of those systems depending upon your status. Examples being the Data Protection Act 1998, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 to name but three.

Operators of surveillance camera systems are hopefully getting to grips with responsibilities which will arise from the much anticipated new data protection legislation and there is very helpful guidance produced by the Information Commissioner’s Office which helps you in that regard.

It is important however, that in considering the broad range of legal obligations which apply, if you are a ‘relevant authority’ as defined by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (PoFA) you must ensure, and continue to ensure in the post GDPR world, that you comply with PoFA in respect of the surveillance camera systems you operate.

So, do you operate surveillance cameras overtly in public places in England and Wales? If so and you are a local authority within the meaning of the Local Government Act 1972, the Greater London Authority, the Common Council of the City of London in its capacity as a local authority, the Sub-Treasurer of the Inner Temple or the Under-Treasurer of the Middle Temple, in their capacity as a local authority, the Council of the Isles of Scilly, a parish meeting constituted under section 13 of the Local Government Act 1972, a police and crime commissioner, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, the Common Council of the City of London in its capacity as a police authority or any chief officer of a police force in England and Wales (including the British Transport Police, Civil Nuclear Constabulary, Ministry of Defence Police and National Crime Agency)...then read on as you are indeed a relevant authority and have a legal obligation to address under PoFA.

Section 33(1) PoFA provides that ‘A relevant authority must have regard to the surveillance camera code when exercising any functions to which the code relates'. Yes that word is ‘must’.

Whereas there is no fine or sanction for not complying with this requirement, a court or tribunal may, in particular, take into account a failure by a relevant authority to have regard to the surveillance camera code in determining a question in any such proceedings. So disclosure is an important consideration if a relevant authority is to adduce images derived from non-PoFA compliant systems, into judicial proceedings.

Transparency in the legitimacy of operation is fundamental and my Self Assessment Tools can help in that regard. They are on my web site. There are simply 12 guiding principles within the Code for you to have regard to and they are as follows;

1. Use of a surveillance camera system must always be for a specified purpose which is in pursuit of a legitimate aim and necessary to meet an identified pressing need.
2. The use of a surveillance camera system must take into account its effect on individuals and their privacy, with regular reviews to ensure its use remains justified.
3. There must be as much transparency in the use of a surveillance camera system as possible, including a published contact point for access to information and complaints.
4. There must be clear responsibility and accountability for all surveillance camera system activities including images and information collected, held and used.
5. Clear rules, policies and procedures must be in place before a surveillance camera system is used, and these must be communicated to all who need to comply with them.
6. No more images and information should be stored than that which is strictly required for the stated purpose of a surveillance camera system, and such images and information should be deleted once their purposes have been discharged.
7. Access to retained images and information should be restricted and there must be clearly defined rules on who can gain access and for what purpose such access is granted; the disclosure of images and information should only take place when it is necessary for such a purpose or for law enforcement purposes.
8. Surveillance camera system operators should consider any approved operational, technical and competency standards relevant to a system and its purpose and work to meet and maintain those standards.
9. Surveillance camera system images and information should be subject to appropriate security measures to safeguard against unauthorised access and use.
10. There should be effective review and audit mechanisms to ensure legal requirements, policies and standards are complied with in practice, and regular reports should be published.
11. When the use of a surveillance camera system is in pursuit of a legitimate aim, and there is a pressing need for its use, it should then be used in the most effective way to support public safety and law enforcement with the aim of processing images and information of evidential value.
12. Any information used to support a surveillance camera system which compares against a reference database for matching purposes should be accurate and kept up to date.

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