The government's 12-point plan to regulate the use of surveillance cameras has come into force, despite widespread concern that it does too little to protect the public from unwarranted invasion of privacy.
The Surveillance Camera Code of Practice aims to balance the needs of law enforcement for CCTV footage with individuals' rights to privacy.
“Through this code – and with an independent commissioner – there will be a framework in place for the first time that helps police and local authorities in the fight against crime and anti-social behaviour, while reassuring the public that cameras in public places are used proportionately and effectively,” said Lord Taylor of Holbeach, minister for criminal information.
Under the code, CCTV operators are required to stipulate the purpose of the cameras and are expected to conduct annual reviews to ensure their use continues to be justified. The code also places restrictions of the storage of footage and demands access is tightly controlled.
Forensic science regulator Andrew Rennison became the UK's first surveillance camera commissioner last year and will work in conjunction with the information commissioner to encourage compliance with the code.
The code of practice was first published last year, with a consultation programme running between February and March this year.
According to the government's own figures, nearly a fifth of respondents said they would not support the implementation of the CCTV code of practice. Many of those expressed concern over the limited number of authorities that it would cover, and doubts that private sector firms would voluntarily adopt it.
Almost a quarter also said they did not think the code of conduct would create greater transparency from CCTV operators. The government said it would review whether more authorities needed to be covered by the code and whether further legislation was needed to cover the private sector by 2015.
There have been growing concerns over the proliferation of CCTV devices, many of which are connected to the internet. Last year, researchers discovered that many CCTV systems used by businesses and home owners could be easily compromised, allowing would-be snoopers free reign to use the devices to spy on properties.
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