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UK to host world’s first surveillance camera day

The UK is to host the world’s first surveillance camera day to raise awareness about surveillance cameras and generate a debate about how they are used

The UK, which spends more than £2bn on video surveillance each year, is to mark National Surveillance Camera Day on 20 June as part of the National Surveillance Camera Strategy.

The aim of the national event is to raise awareness about surveillance cameras and to encourage debate about the use of surveillance cameras in modern society by highlighting how they are used in practice, why they are used and who is using them.

The initiative by the Surveillance Camera Commissioner (SCC) and the Centre for Research into Information, Surveillance and Privacy (Crisp) is also aimed at starting a nationwide conversation about how camera technology is evolving, especially around automatic face recognition and artificial intelligence (AI).

The organisers hope that the resultant public debate will help inform policy-makers and service providers regarding societally acceptable surveillance practices and legitimacy for surveillance camera systems that are delivered in line with society’s needs.

As part of the initiative, the SCC is encouraging surveillance camera control centres to throw their “doors open” so that the public can see how they operate.

Local authorities, police forces, hospitals and universities have signed up to take part in the “doors open” programme, including the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council, Surrey Police in Woking, the Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, and the University of Wolverhampton.

To complement the “doors open” initiative, a number of surveillance camera operators will be publishing a surveillance camera factsheet, setting out the basic facts of their system, including what it is designed to do, and the number of cameras.

On 20 June, the SCC will also be launching a “secure by default” list of minimum requirements for manufacturers of video surveillance systems at the IFSEC International Conference in London.

The list of minimum requirements is also a world first and has been designed for manufacturers by manufacturers. Where manufacturers meet the new requirements, it will ensure that the default settings of a product are the most secure settings possible. This means they are much less likely to be vulnerable to cyber attacks.

“Cameras are used to keep people safe, but new and emerging technology can lead to greater infringements to our civil liberties,” said Tony Porter, surveillance camera commissioner.

“Civil engagement is a key strand of the national surveillance camera strategy, and I want people who use cameras to shine a light on what they do – how they’re using cameras to protect communities, not spy on them.”

William Webster, director of Crisp, said a public debate about the use or surveillance cameras is essential to establish what is acceptable to society and what is not.

“Surveillance cameras are now ubiquitous, and with developments like face-recognition and AI, they are becoming more sophisticated and intrusive. Such systems are provided in the public interest and it is essential that those charged with the governance and regulation of such systems are confident that they have a good understanding of what practices and systems are broadly acceptable.

“The National Surveillance Camera Day is a chance for anyone to have their say about the future of surveillance cameras. The regulators and service providers are listening,” he said.

UK policing minister Nick Hurd said the government believes that when used appropriately, surveillance cameras are valuable tools that contribute to public safety. 

“Recently there has been increased public interest in the police trials of live facial recognition technology, which has raised legitimate privacy concerns and it is only right that we debate these issues in a democratic society. 

“It is important that the public are better informed on how the police use this evolving technology, which is just a tool as experienced officers make all decisions about whether to intervene, so that we get the right balance between public protection and privacy.

“So I welcome the Surveillance Camera Day as an opportunity to continue the public debate about the role of surveillance cameras in our society,” he said in a statement.

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