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New surveillance camera code of practice comes into force

A new surveillance camera code of practice that includes guidelines for CCTV and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) systems has come into force today (12 August).

The Home Office said that the principle of surveillance by consent was at the heart of the code, which was produced following the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 and can be viewed here. Both the police and public authorities would need to heed the code, it added.

Minister for Criminal Information Lord Taylor of Holbeach said: “This government believes both CCTV and ANPR are both vital tools but it is crucial they are focused on aiding the fight against crime and protecting the public.

“I am pleased we now have in place a code that, together with the work of the independent surveillance camera commissioner, will better harness these technologies and help put an end to CCTV systems growing without proper oversight.”

Andrew Rennison, who was appointed as the first Surveillance Camera Commissioner in 2012, said: “This is an important first step, the journey starts now. I will be looking for action by the relevant authorities and providing tools that help them and others who are encouraged to adopt the code to be transparent, open and effective in their use of surveillance cameras.”

Rennison will provide a report to Parliament with any concerns on the code and its implementation.

Campaign group Big Brother Watch described the code of practice as “a step in the right direction towards bringing proper oversight".

But it added: “With only a small fraction of cameras covered and without any penalties for breaking the code, we hope that this is only the beginning of the process and that further steps will be taken in the future to protect people’s privacy from unjustified or excessive surveillance.”

It claimed that CCTV had too often been used “as a substitute for policing or as a lazy option, instead of a more thorough consideration of how the underlying causes can be addressed”.

Big Brother Watch said the regulator needed real powers to enforce the rules. The code should apply to every CCTV camera, irrespective of who is operating it, the group added.

The Government will review the scope of the code of practice in 2015.

Last month the Information Commissioner's Office attacked the setting up of a 'ring of steel' of ANPR cameras around the town of Royston in Hertfordshire. 

The ICO said Hertfordshire Constabulary had failed to carry out any effective impact assessment before introducing the system and been unable to give a satisfactory explanation to justify use of the scheme, which involved seven static cameras at six locations.

The Code of Practice’s 12 guiding principles

  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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