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Surveillance camera czar calls for stronger UK code of practice

Surveillance cameras are for supporting communities, not spying on them, but the UK needs stronger regulation and citizen engagement in this area, says surveillance camera commissioner

Tony Porter, surveillance commissioner for England and Wales, has called for a strengthening of the code of practice for the surveillance camera industry.

This is necessary, he said, in light of the fact that the data protection regulatory landscape has changed and CCTV technologies have evolved in the past 5 years.

“We now have the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation], which has added new responsibilities,” he said, adding that and in terms of technology, there has been the emergence of body-worn cameras, drones and capabilities such as facial recognition, gait analysis and lip syncing.

“When I became commissioner, everybody knew what CCTV did, but now the reality is that the public do not know what the new surveillance platforms can do. They do not know the technical capabilities. They do not know that some cameras can spot you at a distance of up to 5 kilometres, or predict behaviour or provide other analytical processes.

“In addition, the latest statistics indicate that 54% of the public support surveillance, provided it is to help the police in countering serious and organised crime, but that means a large proportion still have doubts.

“And that is why I am urging the Home Office and the government to be more robust in providing the regulatory environment so that manufacturers and users know what is legitimate,” he said.

Advancing technology, said Porter, is essential for the UK to move forward. “We should lead in technical capability, but equally, we need to make sure we listen to those who have concerns about their civil liberties and make sure we are leaders in protecting them,” he said.

However, as there is currently no law that enables surveillance, but there may be laws coming that place restrictions on it and there are certainly regulations that need to be complied with, he said citizen engagement is important.

“I am a big fan of listening to people who hate surveillance. I love surveillance, but it is important that we understand where the pressure points are for those who challenge it so that we can mitigate against them,” he said.

“The more the opposing arguments are heard, the more you can disagree with them by pointing out things like the fact that on 99.9% of homicide investigations and every terrorism investigation, the police use video surveillance technologies.

“Increasingly, this will be linked to things such as facial recognition and sensor technologies that can detect explosives, which will all protect us – provided there is a strong regulatory environment.

“So I welcome challenges from groups like Privacy International and Liberty because they should be heard, and they should be countered. And the message that I want to be heard is that we are engaged and that this is a responsible community,” he said.

Porter was speaking at the IFSEC International Conference in London, where he launched the world’s first voluntary cyber security standard and compliance certification mark for the manufacturers of surveillance cameras as part of National Surveillance Camera Day, which is the commissioner’s latest initiative aimed at engaging with UK citizens and generate debate.

The voluntary security standard, developed in consultation with surveillance camera manufacturers, sets minimum requirements to ensure that surveillance cameras and components are manufactured in a way that is secure by design and secure by default, and forms part of the commissioner’s UK’s National Surveillance Camera Strategy.

The day was also marked by a “doors open” programme in which local authorities, police forces, hospitals and universities signed up invite members of the public into their surveillance camera control rooms to show how they are run to keep communities safe and secure, without intruding on their privacy.

In addition, the commissioner said he issued a survey to the 43 police forces in England and Wales as well as the National Crime Agency (NCA) asking them to identify every surveillance platform the use in a public space, and to ensure they are demonstrating compliance with data protection laws.

“Our police services demonstrating that level of compliance sends a powerful message to countries that seek to snuff out the civil liberties and rights of their citizens,” he said.

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