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The Home Office has introduced a CCTV code of practice to try to curb the excessive use of cameras for surveillance by increasing numbers of private and public sector organisations. However, there is no enforcement of the code and no fines for breaking it.
The code, set out by the Home Office earlier this year, acknowledges that CCTV can be vital to security and surveillance, but said it must have a “legitimate aim” and be “compliant with any relevant legal obligations”.
In particular, concerns have grown over recent years over the way CCTV is being used for excessive monitoring, such as in taxis, which was deemed illegal by the Information Commissioner’s Office last year.
The code states: “This code has been developed to address concerns over the potential for abuse or misuse of surveillance by the state in public places, with the activities of local authorities and the police the initial focus of regulation."
To try and enforce this there are 12 points that CCTV operators must follow that cover a range of issues, from use to data retention and the ability to contact the people running the cameras to access information.
“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,” reads point one of the scheme.
Point two reads: “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.”
Despite the action by the government, privacy campaigners are still concerned not enough is being done. Civil liberties group Big Brother Watch pointed out that without proper enforcement it could become irrelevant.
"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 said in a blog post.
"As CCTV technology improves and issues like facial recognition analysis come to the fore, it is essential that people are able to access meaningful redress where their privacy is infringed. The Surveillance Camera Commissioner must be given the powers and the resources to take action otherwise the public will rightly ask if the surveillance state continues to escape accountability.
The issue of CCTV is just one area of monitoring to hit the headlines recently, with the ICO slamming police in Hertfordshire for "illegal" use of ANPR cameras to create a "ring of steel" around the village of Royston.